Making better decisions – Why having multiple perspectives reduces risks

My partner (and friend) Steve Indig is an avid basketball fan and sent me the link to the Silver Memo, which highlights the NBA Commissioner’s recent direction to "strongly" encourage all 30 teams to increase the number of women in their organizations, including in leadership roles. Not surprising since the NBA is already the furthest along on that road since Becky Hammon, the top assistant on the San Antonio Spurs' staff, interviewed for the head coach’s job with the Milwaukee Bucks last May.

A few months back, Hayley Wickenheiser, one of the world’s best female hockey players, was recruited by new Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas and director of player development Scott Pellerin to guest-coach Leafs hopefuls at a development camp. Wickenheiser has since been hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs as the new assistant director of player development, which is essentially a skills coach for the team’s prospects. Also hired was Noelle Needham as an amateur scout for the Midwestern United States.

The hires are not ground-breaking, as NHL teams have been hiring women for decades as skating coaches, scouts, and in analytics roles. However, the importance here is that Wickenheiser, 40, is one of the first women hired as a skills and strategy coach.

This is smart strategy in my opinion. According to Dubas himself “Research shows the more diverse your organization the better the decision-making, the better your operation in general. If you just hire white males, and I say that as a white male, you’re probably leaving a lot on the table in terms of where your organization can go and how it evolves and develops. We’re looking for the best candidates. We’re not pushing anybody aside.”

It is precisely this kind of thinking that helps to mitigate all kinds of risks. People of different genders, ethnic backgrounds, age, and skill sets typically bring different ideas and solutions to the table. Having different people working together to solve some of the bigger challenges facing sport leaders today is smart risk management.

As I reflected on over a decade of facilitating risk management workshops and supporting organizations through strategic planning, I found myself coming back to the simple, yet powerful truism that diversity of perspectives enables better decision-making. An important component of any good risk management effort is the critical importance of conversation between various decision-makers as they look to solve ‘wicked problems’.

Beyond ‘list management’, smart risk management requires decision makers to seek out diversity of opinions, from people who don’t necessarily think, look, or act like them. Author Mark Addleson, in his book Beyond Management, speaks to this point in the transformation from a factory-inspired economy to knowledge workers who require something more than tools, check-lists, and how-to manuals.  Addleson writes about the critical importance of conversation to solve today’s complex problems: “Wouldn’t it be nice if whenever we found ourselves floundering, we could turn to a repertoire of conversations to help us move ahead-conversations that would help us negotiate through the thicket of tough problems, get unstuck, and align?”

With this in mind, here are a few ways to enhance your decision-making process, some of which are inspired by an interesting book on thinking called “How to Think” by cultural critic Alan Jacobs.

  1. Pause. When faced with provocation to respond to the tyranny of the immediate, take a ‘time out’ to consider more than your initial reaction. This ‘pause’ will allow you to take in other perspectives, manage any emotions that might have surfaced, and allow your creative side to emerge. If you can engage your body while pausing, do it. As Pema Chodron reminds us, our bodies store wisdom that we only have access to when we intentionally tap into it.
  2. Learn. Keep an open mind as you listen to a dissenting point of view. Encourage active communications with those you disagree with. Cultivate a learning over debating mindset. Better decisions will grow from this space of collaboration.
  3. Seek. Intentionally invite the perspective of people you don’t necessarily agree with. They might have something to teach you.
  4. Community. Pay attention to who you spend time with. Chances are you are naturally drawn to those who share your values. Be mindful of only seeking out those who share your views. They are influencing your view points which in turn impacts the quality of your decisions.
  5. Know thyself. Work on becoming self-aware through mindfulness practices, journaling, 360s, coaching, etc. Self-aware leaders are more thoughtful in their contributions, as they typically have paused to assess various points of views, including their own limiting beliefs.
  6. Listen. When people feel heard, they feel valued. When they feel valued, they feel less afraid to share their views. As leaders, one of our key roles is to help others feel a wee bit braver so they can contribute more fully.
  7. Be gentle. As the old saying by Alexander Pope goes: To err is human, to forgive divine. We all make decisions that in the light of day we wish we hadn’t. I often share with clients one of my favourite sayings: Mess up. Fess up. Apologize. Make it right. Easy to say, hard to do.

Let me know if you have any thoughts or comments on the above. I can be reached at dbl@sportlaw.ca.

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