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Five Tips for Making Decisions


Thanks to its partnership with publisher Eye on Education, Education World is pleased to present this administrator tip from School Leader Internship (4th Edition): Developing, Monitoring, and Evaluating Your Leadership Experience, by Gary E. Martin, Arnold B. Danzig, William F. Wright, Richard A. Flanary, and Fred Brown. This article provides school leaders with five factors to consider when making quality decisions.

Decision making is sine qua non to education administration because a school, like all formal organizations, is basically a decision-making structure (Hoy and Miskel, 2001). Decision making is a process that guides actions. Decisions are based on the beliefs, values and previous experiences of individuals. Leaders must know themselves, know why they choose particular paths, know whom to involve, and know which particular decision-making model to use. Today, researchers and theorists know that those at the top cannot accurately gather or predict all alternatives. They know that followers deserve to be involved and that input and collaboration result in better decisions. The first decision is to decide what level of involvement is most effective.

Leaders have at least four options of involvement in decisions: deciding alone, seeking participation and input, seeking collaboration, and letting others decide. These approaches are termed autocratic, participative, collaborative, and laissez fair, respectively. A wise leader uses participative and collaborative strategies for all important decisions. However, such an approach is not always possible, nor is it preferable in all situations. The leader must assess 5 factors to decide on the level of involvement:


Urgency may require the leader to make his or her own decision without consulting others. Participative decisions, especially collaborative decisions, require more time than a decision made alone. If important decisions are at stake, the leader must schedule more time for involvement.

Staff Interest in the Decision

Barnard (1938) found that individuals have a "zone of indifference" in which they simply accept the leader's decision and are apathetic toward the decision. In these cases, the leader would not benefit from trying to gain participation or collaboration. At higher levels of interest, however, more participation or collaboration is appropriate. Leaders who desire more collaboration must generate interest in the decision.

Staff Expertise

Followers who have very low levels of expertise accept the decisions of leaders. Staff members who have higher levels of expertise require either participation or collaboration to arrive at successful decisions. The leader who desires collaboration must raise levels of expertise to successfully involve subordinates.

Importance or Need For a High-Quality Decision

Some decisions are much more important and carry significant consequences. This is usually the case for instruction and learning, whether directly or indirectly. For important questions that demand high-quality decisions, collaboration is the best model. If the decision is relatively unimportant, then the leader should simply make the decision.

Degree of Need for Buy-In or Support for the Decision

Many decisions in schools need staff support for successful implementation and results. A collaborative model often increases buy-in and support.



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