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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Leadership Decisiveness is About Timeliness

Anne Mulcahy is chairman and former CEO of Xerox. She is a director on the boards of Catalyst, Citigroup, Johnson & Johnson, and the Washington Post Company, as well as chair of the board of trustees for Save the Children. Here is what she has to say about the leadership style she had to adopt at Xerox in order to ensure high quality decision making:

‘At Xerox. ..[we]..established a group-assessment process, which helped us avoid what I call lazy people decisions, that is, biases against confrontation that could have marginalised the effectiveness of our team. You need to look for people who can strike the hard balance between courage and learning—people who have audacity in their convictions and know when to be unyielding but who are also good listeners and capable of adapting. That is the single most important leadership trait, outside of pure competence.....

Decisiveness is about timeliness. And timeliness trumps perfection. The most damaging decisions are the missed opportunities, the decisions that didn’t get made in time......

These days, everyone is risk averse. Unfortunately, people define risk as something you avoid rather than something you take. But taking risks is critical to your decision-making effectiveness and growth, and most companies have taken a large step backwards because of the current climate. I was CEO of Xerox for five years before we really got back into the acquisition market, even though we knew we needed to acquire some things rather than develop them internally. But we got very conservative, very risk averse, and also too data driven. By the time we would reach a decision that some technology was going to be a home run, it had either already been bought or was so expensive we couldn’t afford it.

Decisions have shelf lives, so you really need to put tight timeframes on your process. I would so much rather live with the outcome of making a few bad decisions than miss a boatload of good ones. Some of it flies in the face of good process and just requires good gut. So when trying to take bias out of decision making, you need to be really cautious not to take instinct, courage, and gut out as well.’


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