Knock Box #4002

“Tree or Brown” Decision Making

Middle management is no great mystery. You have frontline folks who do the heavy lifting. The job they have is 100% prescribed. Do this. Do that. Go to lunch. Do that, then this and now go home.

Next up. Supervisor. Yes that person that makes your life miserable. Well 80% of their work is documented in a sweet process that your friend worked on for 9 months of their life and now no one reads it. Not even them. The remaining 20% percent is where you hope they use the gray matter bestowed upon them at birth. But they don’t. And that’s where I come in.

Middle management (me) is the next level up. What might you ask, is there anything left to do? (80+20 = 100…uh nothing). You’d think. But you’d be wrong. My job starts when that manager gets to 81%. They black out. Almost as if their mind has been formatted clean from the “Damn What Do I Do Now” virus.

Here’s what they do. They set up a meeting with me. I provide them with pleasantries and platitudes. And then ask, “How can I help you today?”. (My fake smile looking more incredulous by the day). Now they give me THE STORY… “Well you see…”. And that’s when I black out. “Yack, Yack, blah, blah, and then…” (Play scary music here). “And now I don’t know what to do.” I nod to give them the perception that yes, just maybe this time you’ve stumped me. But no. They haven’t.

First I use what I call Napoleonic Leadership. Not sure where I got that from exactly, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with that short French guy, but anyway here goes: (1) Specifically what is the problem? (2) What are the options to resolve this? (3) What is your best recommendation? Once we work thru that, I ask them the consequences or impacts of each decision. And then I say something like, “Well I think you have your answer right??” 90% of the time they smile and say…”Yeah. You’re right. It’s pretty obvious.” We exchange more small talk and I send them off until they get to the next “problem”. Now this is trickeration mind you. This is getting people to become more self-reliant, to think and not assume that I have the every answer. I’m not the “Tree of Knowledge” (another time). So what do you do the other 10% of the time that it doesn’t work?

(and yo this math stuff sucks! I know hang in there we’re almost done).

They get the “Tree or Brown” speech. It goes like this.

“There is no right or wrong decision here. As a leader you make a decision based on the information you have right now. If I say tree or brown, pick one and you say, TREE. Now I say, choosing the tree means you’re fired. Now what’s your choice. BROWN.” This doesn’t mean that your first answer was wrong. You made the best choice you could with the information you had available. You’ll never really have “enough” information to feel comfortable or completely confident; only enough information to make a decision in the now.

And that’s what a leader does. You decide. And when you’re wrong, you own it. When you’re right, you should say you got lucky to build up good will for the next time you’re wrong. As a middle manager, I guide people thru the gray areas of making decisions. In time, you start making more right ones then wrong ones. And then someday, you’re good at what you do. Then you get more work. And OMG, now I have more freakin’ decisions to make. But don’t worry…just ask your boss. I’m sure they’ll be able to help.

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