April 2019 | Nano Tools | Leadership
Nano Tools for Leaders® are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes — with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.
Contributor: Dafna Eylon, PhD; President, Eylon Associates
Become aware of and heed the six warning signs that signal you might be about to make a bad decision.
Leaders are by definition decision makers. Whether game-changing or mundane, choices are made every day, multiple times — and they need to be made quickly. In fact, your leadership is defined by those decisions, both in terms of their quality and timeliness. Often, you can choose and move on to your next task, but sometimes signals appear that warn you to slow down and reassess before making a decision.
There are, in fact, six distinct warning signs to be aware of. These signs don’t mean you are definitely about to make a less-than-optimal decision, but they are indicators that you need to pause, consider, and then decide. It’s that pause and reflection that can help you discover that you need to rethink your approach, or that you’re on the right track.
Once you familiarize yourself with these warning signs, monitor yourself (and those around you). Each sign does not necessarily mean you are headed toward a bad decision, but it can provide a needed pause to evaluate what you are doing and why.
When Airbus announced it would stop producing its A380, the world’s largest passenger jet, CEO Tom Enders said the decision was “at least 10 years too late.” At a loss of at least $17 billion, the fall from what the Wall Street Journal dubbed “Wonder to Blunder” can be blamed in large part on a misjudgment of the market. That’s not what happened to rival Boeing, though. In fact, Boeing conducted a joint study with Airbus in the 1990s to determine the market potential for jumbo aircraft, when demand for Boeing’s 747 was falling off. The two companies came to very different conclusions, with Airbus convinced that the super jumbo market would be far larger than what Boeing believed. Richard Aboulafia, vice president of an aerospace consulting firm, was not alone in his assessment that Airbus — which lacked a jumbo aircraft — had what he termed “fuselage envy.” According to Aboulafia, Airbus believed if it had the biggest plane, it would beat Boeing. Airbus’s conclusion is a classic case of confirmation bias — seeing only the data you expect to see. Steven Udvar-Házy, a pioneer of aircraft leasing, told the Wall Street Journal that the A380 was inspired largely by political ambition to outdo Boeing by creating the world’s largest airliner.
According to Darden professor Luann Lynch’s case study The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal, pressure from CEO Martin Winterkorn contributed to the disastrous decision made by VW’s engineers to install emissions-cheating software in cars exported to the U.S. Winterkorn’s goal was to transform the company into the world’s largest automaker, targeting the neglected U.S. market to meet the goal. But tripling sales meant engineers had to come up with a miracle — fuel-efficient diesel cars that could pass increasingly strict pollution regulations. Under a tight deadline to meet the goal set by a bullying leader who insisted on success at any cost, the engineers bowed to pressure and installed software in U.S.-bound cars that would allow them to cheat on emissions testing. Winterkorn ultimately resigned, and VW continues to deal with the aftermath of the scandal.
Nano Tools for Leaders® was conceived and developed by Deb Giffen, MCC, director of Custom Programs at Wharton Executive Education. Nano Tools for Leaders® is a collaboration between joint sponsors Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management. This collaboration is led by Professors Michael Useem and John Paul MacDuffie.
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