We all hold power when it comes to decision-making.
You may have top-down authority to make a decision. You may have the expertise and credibility to influence a decision, to offer up new ideas. You may have the legitimacy to constructively dissent to a decision that affects you directly. You may be motivated to block implementation of a decision that you don’t like.
Making or influencing or blocking a decision that affects others is a big deal.
It’s a choice, a skill and a responsibility. It is a precious power.
As a politician, it was a serious responsibility making policy choices on behalf of constituents. One of the most precious decisions I ever made was to support Gay-Straight-Alliances (GSAs) in schools.
Decision-making here was tricky. Provincial politicians decide policy. Advocates and parents and school boards all speak for students. Yet a decision about expressing one’s sexuality is profoundly personal. As we all know youth who haven’t shared their sexual identity with their families can be vulnerable. Preserving a student’s ability to decide when and how to come out is protecting that student’s decision-making power as an individual.
In my corporate life, decision-making wasn’t that clear-cut either. Authority, influence, persuasion, group-think and coercion all reared their heads when a critical decision needed to be made. You may have seen this too.
Right now, there’s a big shift happening. Power is spreading. It’s easier to get. The Occupy movements, the Arab Spring, WikiLeaks, #MeToo, and environmental advocates who are able to overwhelm regulatory processes and shut down oil pipelines in Canada are proof.
If you have formal authority, it’s never been harder to use. Techniques to block the use of power are gaining strength: veto, diversion, interference, foot-dragging, vexatious litigation.
Social license can now be more powerful than the rule of law.
Obviously, the concentration of power in the hands of a few isn’t good; it’s tyranny. On the other end of the spectrum, overly-diffused power can lead to chaos.
How can you find and support approaches that give decision-makers enough power to be effective, but not too much?
Let me share an experience of what I felt was exceptional decision-making. A model of the power of sharing power.
It happened in front of me in an unlikely place, the island of Socotra, Yemen, a military dictatorship.
I was there as part of Canada Bridges, with the local leaders, the Yemeni Minister of Public Health and Population and the meetings host, a local Sheikh.
The military were told to put down their guns. The Minister of Health and the local Sheikh sat on a blanket, face to face.
The Minister leaned in, listening intently, rarely speaking.
Also in attendance, the Minister’s healthcare experts, local faith leaders, and villagers–men and women and children.
After pleasantries, the crisis to be resolved was put on the table. How could this remote island improve the health of young mothers and their babies? Specifically, the problem of girls being married as “child brides”, their young, undeveloped bodies unable to safely bear babies.
From my point of view, this was heartbreaking.
The Minister of Health had the power to unilaterally set healthcare policy. Yet he chose to travel to Socotra and listen closely.
The policy decisions made reflected this. They agreed to better healthcare during pregnancy and education on birth-control choices.
Most critically, local faith leaders undertook to use their influence to condemn personal decisions by locals to marry child brides, the root cause of the crisis.
It’s fairly easy to see how this decision could have gone other ways, with less sensitivity and potentially less uptake.
So, Idea #6, treat your role in decision-making as the precious exercise of power that it is.
Decisions are made moment by moment, both small and large. Your approach matters. All of us hold power in decision-making. Whether we speak for others or interfere with a decision that’s been made. Use your power wisely.
I promised you 7 Ideas for Life: An Antidote to Polarity. The final big idea will be shared in the upcoming blog. It’s a tough one.
Idea #7: Sometimes, you need to be formidable.
Remember, these ideas are shared in podcasts too. So you can listen in. And share with your friends.
And, please, let us know how you see your role in decision-making. And how you use that precious role to break down polarities. As you speak for others, and make decisions that impact others.
Donna Kennedy-Glans, May 20th, 2018