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Most executives think of decision making as a singular event that occurs at a particular point in time. In reality, though, decision making is a process fraught with power plays, politics, personal nuances, and institutional history. Leaders who recognize this make far better decisions than those who persevere in the fantasy that decisions are events they alone control. That said, some decision-making processes are far more effective than others. Most often, participants use an advocacy process, possibly the least productive way to get things done. They view decision making as a contest, arguing passionately for their preferred solutions, presenting information selectively, withholding relevant conflicting data so they can make a convincing case, and standing firm against opposition. Much more powerful is an inquiry process, in which people consider a variety of options and work together to discover the best solution. Moving from advocacy to inquiry requires careful attention to three critical factors: fostering constructive, rather than personal, conflict; making sure everyone knows that their viewpoints are given serious consideration even if they are not ultimately accepted; and knowing when to bring deliberations to a close. The authors discuss in detail strategies for moving from an advocacy to an inquiry process, as well as for fostering productive conflict, true consideration, and timely closure. And they offer a framework for assessing the effectiveness of your process while you’re still in the middle of it. Decision making is a job that lies at the very heart of leadership and one that requires a genius for balance: the ability to embrace the divergence that may characterize early discussions and to forge the unity needed for effective implementation.

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