READ: Are Your Decisions Creating Unintended Consequences?

Are your decisions creating unintended consequences? If they are, you may need to review how much you need to control the decision-making process in your business. Are you the only one who really makes decisions or do you seek to collaborate?

Authoritarian Tendencies

We are currently witnessing an extraordinary change in international politics with some leaders making very wide-ranging decisions without appropriate collaboration, and it highlights an interesting paradox in the delegation of decision making. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, boldly announced that she would take the UK out of the European single market without the need for agreement from Parliament. This was promptly challenged in the High Court and found to be unconstitutional. The UK Constitution demands collaboration in Parliament in order to maintain a parliamentary democracy. This requires appropriate input and debate by representatives of the people, so she had to back down and agree to put a bill through the parliamentary procedure.

In the USA there is a new President who is showing all the signs of someone who is happy to make all the decisions and neglect collaboration. He wrote six quite radical Executive Orders in his first week of office and they immediately prompted strong and influential voices threatening to challenge the Orders in the courts. It still remains to be seen what the consequences of his authoritarian and provocative stance will be in the longer term. His followers love it but in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent global economy there are some very serious implications and risks in this approach.

In both of the above cases the political leaders are acting as if they have a 100% majority mandate with unilateral authority, and that is simply not the case. If they don’t show signs of willingness to collaborate and share some decisions with others, there will be a backlash with unintended consequences. No one wants an authoritarian, who makes all the decisions on their own, in charge of their country. History is littered with examples of authoritarians who ended up with a lot of unintended consequences. They often came to an unpleasant end, leaving a trail of destruction behind them.

Deferring Decisions

Let’s look at another example of the paradox of delegating decisions and taking responsibility for making decisions. The European experiment of a union of sovereign states has lofty ideals that have successfully prevented war amongst the major European powers for the longest period in many generations. However, the decision-making process in the EU, which emphasises collaboration and agreement, has created the unintended consequences of intolerable bureaucracy with a lack of clear leadership. This has led to overly cumbersome processes where decisions get bogged down in endless protocols and haggling about vested interests, and no-one takes responsibility because it is politically safer to defer decisions. Unfortunately, this is creating the unintended consequences of a backlash and increasing opposition to the whole project.

Wise Leadership and Authoritative Collaboration

The paradox in the delegation of decisions is elegantly explained in one of the graphs designed by Dr Dan Harrison. Dan has made a unique contribution to the field of human potential by using his expertise from the field of mathematics and applied psychology to develop an elegant and insightful set of reports that raise awareness and motivation by highlighting natural strengths and possible derailers.

Wise leaders are aware of the paradox in delegation and know how to balance the enjoyment of making decisions and taking responsibility with the enjoyment of collaborating with others when making decisions. They know that collaboration often leads to better decisions and has a number of advantages, like getting buy-in and making people feel part of the process. This participation can give valuable input while increasing engagement, commitment to the decision and active participation in implementing it.

The proverb for Authoritative Collaboration is: “Never hesitate to take counsel from appropriate people, but always take full responsibility for your own decisions.”

By exercising ‘Authoritative Collaboration’ wise leaders are willing to take responsibility for decisions and yet avoid the ego-trap of being authoritarian and insisting on having sole control of decisions. They also avoid deferring decisions to others because they don’t worry about being blamed for a particular decision. An Authoritative Collaborator is a natural delegator because they will gently guide the direction of subordinates while maintaining responsibility. They create greater involvement from everyone and when a task or project is begun, people feel it is their own idea. When the task is complete, they feel it was their project.

The opposite of Authoritative Collaboration is ‘Avoiding Decisions’ where someone avoids taking responsibility for decisions and doesn’t consult with others when making decisions.

The Paradox of Delegation

The Paradox of Delegation is explained below. There are two primary traits:

  • ‘Authoritative’ which is the desire for decision-making authority and the willingness to accept decision-making responsibility.
  • ‘Collaborative’ which is the tendency to collaborate with others when making decisions.

If we have a very high Authoritative tendency with low Collaborative tendencies we can end up being rather authoritarian and believe that collaboration is only for people who won’t take responsibility. On the other hand, if we have a very high collaborative tendency with low authoritative tendencies it can lead to Deferring Decisions to others and a belief that they will be blamed or even punished if things don’t work out. This tendency also demonises people who are authoritative. If we avoid decision-making authority, while at the same time avoiding making decisions jointly with others, there is a tendency to avoid decisions altogether. I’ve heard many business leaders say that this particular tendency can be disastrous, especially in a rapidly changing and uncertain world. A typical entrepreneurial approach is that it’s better to make a poor decision than none at all.

Retaining your Best People

Many businesses are struggling to attract and retain good people. Numerous surveys are showing that the quality of leadership and management is becoming even more critical than ever before. In order to create a dynamic environment with highly engaged people who believe they are valued, you need to ensure that your managers are versatile and have strong Authoritative Collaboration so their people are fully involved while also having clear direction and leadership.

So where are you on this paradox? What are your decision-making preferences? Are they appropriate for the current stage of your business? What are the tendencies of your key managers and are they being as effective as they need to be? How well are you and your managers avoiding the unintended consequences of an unbalanced approach?

It is interesting to see how many clients are now using the powerful insights from the Harrison Paradox Report to identify individual and team traits and tendencies. It is important to note that a strong trait is not necessarily a strength, because if a strong trait is unbalanced as described above it may produce unintended consequences. A genuine strength is created when two paradoxical traits combine to cancel out the unintended consequences and you are left with a balanced versatility which includes the complimentary benefits of each trait.

If you are interested in exploring where you and your managers stand on this paradox and the 11 other paradoxes in the assessment just contact Amanda at

Remember, especially as you consider making decisions . . . Stay Curious!

David Klaasen

©David Klaasen – March 2017