11 Most Effective Executive Decision-Making Styles | Toggl Blog
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11 Most Effective Executive Decision-Making Styles

Joe Neely Joe Neely Last Updated:
Illustration of a woman at a forked road

What decision-making styles best describe your work personality? Are you a Gut Reactor who needs to be more of a Consensus Builder? Do you find yourself playing the Passive Drone when you’d rather be an Adventure Junkie?

By studying the common types of decision-making, you can pinpoint and optimize your leadership tendencies.

Balance your intuition and confidence with your group-dynamics skills to establish a solid leadership reputation.

Also, remember to use the right decision-making style for each type of audience you encounter.

When you prove your ability to make the best choices on behalf of your group, you’ll rise quickly through your organization’s ranks!

1. The Consensus-Builder

  • Do you ask for everyone’s input when making a decision?
  • Does voting on an issue make you feel more confident to move forward?
  • Do you try to persuade others to see things your way instead of asking them to trust your judgment?

Some leaders feel most comfortable when the entire group weighs in on our decisions.

By getting everyone to buy into a plan, you can increase stakeholder loyalty and limit your culpability if things go sideways. When you need your team to go all in and stand behind you all the way, get group approval of your decision.

Consensus-building matters in high-risk endeavors like startups, investing, and—of course—politics. If you’re taking a team of doctors into the Amazon or a war-torn region, you want eager volunteers, not passive followers.

If you’re taking a career risk to impress your bosses and get that next promotion, making sure everyone on your team embraces your ideas can dramatically increase your chances of success.

When you’re confronted with micro-decisions like what flavor of coffee to get for the break room, you can also benefit from getting a consensus.

Give your team members at least a choice regarding office events, inconsequential style decisions, etc. (If you’re a Dictator, start by delegating these small decisions to your group and work up from there.)

2. The Passive Drone

  • Do you go with the flow?
  • Do you do what you’re told?
  • Do you avoid upsetting others at all costs?

Some people are happy just to be a part of the group. Typically, they avoid making decisions altogether. By avoiding conflict, they maintain their positions in social settings.

However, they rarely rise up in organizations.

For example, the person who shows up on time, works diligently at his cubicle, and goes home right at 5 pm doesn’t rock the boat.

By demonstrating reliability, agreeability, and conformity, this fellow gains job security – but not advancement.

If you resonate with this workplace personality, be careful: people who prefer others to make decisions often suffer from anxiety and depression.

3. The Gut Reactor

  • Do you trust your instinct?
  • Do you prefer to act according to your emotional/internal compass?

Some risk-takers make decisions first and ask questions later. People who use this uber-confident approach can succeed dramatically or crash and burn.

Remember, we know the stories of Caesar and Alexander because they led adventurous lives. However, how many countless others disappeared from history by making rash decisions?

If you like to make gut decisions, you’re in good company; many recent U.S. Presidents and Vice-Presidents have shown this tendency.

However, you must identify when to trust your gut and when to sleep on decisions. You could win big by leading your team in a new and potentially profitable direction; however, you could also lose this gamble.

The best leaders make instinctive decisions when called on to do so.

However, they temper their judgment with data and consensus when necessary.

Listen to your heart when making quick decisions and listen your head (and your team members) when setting long-term strategies.

4. The Dictator

  • Do you demand people obey you without question?
  • Are you known for sitting in your office, making solo decisions, and making pronouncements?
  • Do you feel most comfortable when no one questions your choices after the fact?

Some leaders (and especially certain new leaders) feel they have to present an image of infallibility.

They feel that if they allow others to participate in the decision-making process, they’ve given away their power. In most cases, these leaders need to give their team members some breathing room and solicit input before making decisions.

However, dictatorial leaders (also known as Commanders) thrive in life-or-death situations.

When police officers are searching for a deadly and elusive criminal, they look to their chiefs for unremitting orders.

When first responders arrive at a toxic waste spill, they don’t want a democracy – they want strict and stern commands from the most expert leaders in the field.

5. The Adventure Junkie

I didn’t know my personality would stand out so obviously in my research for this article. If you’re a story-collector like me, you make decisions based on the glory you can bask in afterward.

I once happened across this William Slim quote taped to a sidewalk-facing window at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor: “When you cannot make up your mind which of two evenly balanced courses of action you should take – choose the bolder.”

Remember, if you’re the kind to take “the path less traveled,” make sure to recruit team members, investors, and stakeholders with the same passion (and tolerance) for risk.

Also, surround yourself with people who have different strengths.

With your penchant for adventure, you can inspire your followers into highly-productive flow states; however, delegating key responsibilities to a List Maker (and listening to their advice) can better balance your team.

6. Data-Based Deliberation

Do you take ample time to research, strategize, and organize logistics before making a decision?

Certain leaders crave the deep perspective of statistics, focus groups, and heavily-researched case studies.

When making a case for your next project with upper management, you’ll benefit greatly from studying (and memorizing) the relevant facts.

If you’re new to an organization and need to build credibility, back up your ideas with reams and reams solid facts.

Of course, you shouldn’t “info dump” the people at your next strategy meeting. Present your ideas concisely but let everyone know you have pages and pages of statistics and data to address any concerns they may have.

According to a University of Calgary researcher, leaders and persuaders should contextualize and narrow down information for stakeholders at all levels of expertise and authority.

However, some situations don’t allow for long deliberation and careful research. When faced with a sudden opportunity (or calamity), take charge, follow your gut, and simply act from your experience.

7. The “Decider”

  • Do you demand that others listen to you?
  • Are you a figurehead or a trusted leader?
  • Do your employees see you as a decision-maker or just a mouthpiece for others?

If you make executive decisions and demand others comply, consider not only your decision-making tactics but also your organizational climate.

  • Do you have to fight for airspace?
  • Does your executive team keep a close watch on your actions and choices?
  • Do your team members value your advice or just go over your head?

If you’re stuck in a middle management position with little room to breathe, work on both ends of the management chain.

Demonstrate more decisiveness with executives, take more risks, and take more actions without approval. Don’t ask your boss for permission to order a box of pens; take action and be prepared to take the heat when things don’t go as planned.

By taking bold action, you’ll win the respect of your employees and gain credibility for undertaking larger ventures. With a trusting team at your back, you can wield more leverage in your organization and get the respect you deserve.

8. The List-Maker

  • Do you gain confidence from understanding your options?
  • Do you love to lay out your strategies in writing?
  • Does your team know to present you with all the information when pitching ideas? 

Some leaders make extensive lists and weigh the pros and cons of their decisions. By viewing the future from every angle, you can gain some level of certainty before forging ahead.

List-Makers gain confidence and persuade others by clearly presenting all options – and the likely consequences of each.

Remember, creating lists is wise and feels good in most situations – but not all.

Temper your desire to plan and plan with the necessity of taking risks. Also, use this effective technique in certain cases, but not all the time.

Learn when to carefully weigh decisions, when to go with your gut, and when to delegate.

No one decision-making strategy works 100% of the time. Make your lists in the right scenarios, trust your team in others, and go with the occasional gut instinct – you’ll benefit the most from choosing the right technique for each decision.

9. The Faith-Based Leader

  • Do you take a walk with your deity to figure out the best path forward?
  • Do you stop and meditate before confronting difficult situations?
  • Do you pray before making decisions, both large and small?

Certain decision-makers read spiritual texts, pray/meditate, and ask for guidance from on high. They retreat into solitude and access higher wisdom to make sense of uncertain futures.

Only when they achieve inner peace with a decision, do they proceed.

According to Exodus, when confronted with a limited number of untenable choices, Moses’ Hebrew refugees called out to God. They received an answer to keep going and trust in their deity.

Eventually, their faith was rewarded with one of the Bible’s most enduring images: the parting of the Red Sea.

For some, the faith-based decision-making style opens up new perspectives and inspired opportunities.

However, when making faith-based decisions, consider your audience. If you feel divinely inspired to lead a group of academics in a certain direction, back up your decision with facts.

Conversely, when leading a faith-based organization, temper your followers’ natural tendency to agree with you by soliciting input and grooming future leaders.

10. The Delegator

  • Do you have the confidence to share power with others?
  • Do you want to optimize the leadership potential of your team members?
  • Are you ready to start grooming the future leaders in your organization?

The wisest leaders don’t just understand their decision-making tendencies; they know their limits.

When you pick someone to lead a group or spearhead a task, take a moment and consider their leadership style. Imagine how they can develop as a leader over the course of this project and coach them into a more balanced workplace persona.

In collaboration with the University of Rochester, psychologists from Bejing’s Normal University found another benefit of delegating leadership responsibilities.

Study participants (in Chinese hotels) with more autonomy felt empowered and were more likely to seek feedback. By lessening the power distance between managers and workers, managers who delegated authority were better able to connect with and change the behavior or their employees!

For example, if someone is a List-Maker, remind them that gut decisions are okay in fast-paced scenarios.

However, if you want a Passive Drone to take a leadership role, don’t ask them to be an Adventure Junkie overnight. Have them make extensive lists before suggesting a decision to the group for a vote.

11. Participative Decision Making

  • Do you balance your dictatorship with democracy?
  • Do you allow and encourage your team members to assist in decision-making?
  • Do you take advice well – but ultimately make up your own mind?

If you resonate with the balanced participative decision-making style, you’re probably an experienced and trusted leader.

Like most leadership skills, decision making involves balance and perspective. By balancing the Dictator and Consensus-Builder decision-making styles, you avoid many common mistakes of new leaders.

For example, a 2012 Duke University research team found participative decision-making helped managers avoid the limitations of their “broad overview” perspective by including the voices of people “on the ground.”

By “dialing in” the amount of control and consensus you allow in various situations, you can remain flexible and take advantage of unique opportunities.

If your team members always expect a certain level of input in decisions and you ask them to trust you on a risky venture, they could balk.

Likewise, if you always demand compliance and suddenly put an idea up to a vote, it could make your team uneasy.

The perfect companion to the participative decision-making style is variety. Create an adaptable team that can provide any level of input on a project.

When you earn your employees’ trust, they’ll provide input without fear of reprisal and follow you into the lion’s den when you lead the way.

Blending Decision-Making Styles

With the right balance of decision-making styles, you can get remarkable devotion from your team. Take the time not only to examine your leadership style, but get advice and new perspectives from the colleagues who know you best.

Make sure the methods you pick suit not only your current project but also your team’s current level of development.

You can track your team’s productivity with Toggl’s free, easy-to-use time-tracking software. Create reports with just a few clicks and compare the effectiveness of your leadership and team-building strategies.

By choosing the right technique for each situation, you can demonstrate adaptability and wisdom. Most of all, you’ll gain a reputation for competence with people at all levels of your organization.

With flexibility, self-knowledge, and a willingness to delegate in appropriate situations, you’ll get the most from your team and rise to unforeseen heights!

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