Making a tough decision and making it stick is but one challenge of a leader in charge. An executive decision requires more than using that part of your brain called “executive functioning” which is officially defined as “a set of cognitive abilities that control and regulate other abilities and behaviors. Executive functions are necessary for goal-directed behavior. They include the ability to initiate and stop actions, to monitor and change behavior as needed, and to plan future behavior when faced with novel tasks and situations. Executive functions allow us to anticipate outcomes and adapt to changing situations…”
That all sounds accurate and desirable except that it’s from the Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders! It’s when that function is lacking or disabled that signs begin to appear that all is not well, thus some kind of malfunction, not what one wants to see in a CEO.
If you are going to be adept at solving problems and anticipating outcomes, one of the main functions of an effective leader, then it’s imperative that you have the ability to anticipate those problems before they become even larger. You might call that foresight, something beyond insight. There is even a Foresight Institute (www.foresight.org/) that promotes transformative technologies that promise to address how to capture the opportunities and avoid the risks of nanotechnology in the future. Perhaps every organization should have a “foresight institute” or task force of some sort, capturing opportunities and avoiding risks. Or maybe that’s one more task for the executive in charge.
Two other main functions of an effective leader, from Nan Keohane, are making things happen and taking a stand. An effective leader is a catalyst for actions that will have positive impact on people and the community that he or she leads. Making things happen doesn’t just mean deciding what will happen or who will do what, but also understanding why you are doing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it that way. It is then easier to communicate your actions to others and ahead of the decision rather than ex post facto may be the better strategy.
Taking a stand is being able to articulate with clarity and consistency your core values and how they inform, direct and support programs and policies that are the infrastructure of your organization. And being able to do that even in the face of controversy. Getting everyone on board as much as possible so that you can move forward with common vision and common purpose is easier when your constituents are subscribers to your mission and understand it sufficiently to repeat it often.
Executive decisions need to be sound, wise and well-informed and in the best interests of those whom you lead and serve. The most effective leaders understand the burden and blessing of responsibility that go with the position. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to exercise your executive authority with courage and conviction and perhaps most importantly with grace and generosity of spirit.