The other day I had a conversation with a colleague who approached me about listing me as a reference for a job application that she planned to submit. I agreed and then asked about why she wanted to move up the organizational ladder. Her answer surprised me. She said, "I want to be a vice president because then I can be in control of decisions." I can not help but wonder if my facial expression gave away my internal reaction.
I probed a bit with a few more questions about why she thought a vice president over a unit controlled decisions. Was it because she perceived that vice presidents make all the decisions or made the final decision? I probed a bit to try to understand what types of decisions or situations she wanted control over within the unit. It was an enlightening conversation.
The conversation made me wonder how people within my own organization perceive how decisions get made. I also wonder how people outside of my own organization perceive decisions are made within our institution. Of course, I also began to reflect about how decisions actually get made.
My colleague eventually asked me how I approach making decisions in my role. As I reflected upon that question I realized that the answer was much more complicated than my colleague probably realized. I began my response by saying, "Well, that depends". The quizzical look on my colleague's face told me that she wasn't expecting that answer. So I began to elaborate.
First, I explained that there are many, many decisions that impact the entire institution or very large units within the institution. In those instances I explained that depending upon the complexity of the decision and impact, that I often seek input from the units that may be effected by my decision. I provided an example that I thought she could relate to.
Second, I explained that there are other decisions I don't get to make, but that I am responsible for implementing those decisions. In those instances there are times I am asked my opinion and other times when I am not asked for an opinion or recommendation. In some instances I may agree with the decision and in other instances I may not agree with the decision, but I am still required to implement the decision and own it as if it were my own. I provided a couple of examples.
At the end of my explanation about implementing decisions, my colleague asked me how often those type of situations happen. I explained that I am unsure about how often those happen, but that I can only recall a very few. Based on those few recollections, I felt confident that these situations are less common then the first type of situations where decisions are mine based upon policy and procedure.
I also explained there are times that employees want me to make decisions that are really their decisions to make. My colleague said that she would welcome those opportunities, after all she was looking to move up in the organizational chart because she believes people at higher levels of the organization have more power and with more power they have more control.
After asking her for examples, of which she provided many, I asked her if she knew whether or not those decisions and initiative continued long after the person who made them had left the organization or moved to another position within the organization. My colleague paused for a long time. She said she seemed to recall that a number of those decisions were over turned rather quickly after the person left the role or institution. I then asked, so do you still think the person had control over the decisions they made?
I won't continue to recount the conversation that continued for a couple of hours. However, I will leave you with this question. As a leader is it control you seek or last impacting?