A Monthly Publication from Citrin Consulting
March | 2011


Courageous Leadership

TED Talks

Leadership Pittsburgh Inc.

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Courageous Leadership

Build a Decisive Management Team

Alfred Sloan, the legendary leader of General Motors from the early 1920's until his retirement in 1952, oversaw technological improvements such as electric self-starters (no more cranking) and auto body paints that expanded the color palette for cars way beyond Henry Ford's "you can have any color you want so long as it's black." He also established the multiple brands of GM that were known throughout the industry. However, Sloane's most important invention was that of the modern corporation. Alfred Sloan initiated important management practices that revolutionized corporate practices including centralized financial oversight and annual product cycles (translate as "planned obsolescence") designed to increase demand.

As part of my consultation with a mid-size company, the CEO asked for assistance in improving the engagement of his senior leaders in decision-making. During the fact finding phase, I attended one of the company's management meetings in the style of what is referred to as, "a fly on the wall." Getting to the meeting early I had a chance to settle in as the CEO was running a few minutes late. I observed his staff chitchatting about the latest office news. When he came in, the tone changed and it was down to business. The agenda was managed efficiently with updates reported, and questions responded to appropriately. When it came time for action items, the staff waited to hear from the CEO before raising their points, most of which concurred with his opinions.

When I got together with my client afterwards I asked if he knew who Alfred Sloan was (he did) and what he was famous for regarding decision making in his organization (He didn't)? I explained that before the term "groupthink" came into play, Sloan knew that his senior team members were vulnerable to mostly agreeing with one another or even worse, agreeing with him. As the story goes, Sloan would comment:

"Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here." The assembled General Motors executives nodded their heads in agreement. "Then, I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until the next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement, and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about."

After sharing this quote I proposed changing up the decision making process within the senior team meetings of my client's organization. I suggested that by altering the way decisions were discussed, analyzed, reviewed, and decided, he might find a significant change in how his staff participated with each other and with him.

I introduced the staff in the use of the Stepladder model of decision-making, a useful tool for insuring individual participation in decision-making but one that also uses the "wisdom of the group" to reach best case solutions. This process was developed by researchers at the University of Connecticut in 1992 and involves five basic steps.

  1. The individuals engaged in decision making are provided the problem and are asked to review it independently and form their own ideas about solutions.
  2. A core group of two people is formed and they discuss the problem and make suggestions to each other.
  3. A third member of the group is added and she presents her ideas before hearing the ideas already considered by the first two members. The three-member group then considers all the ideas and options are laid out.
  4. The process is repeated with a fourth member, with time provided for discussion and recommendations for a decision.
  5. After all the information is considered, the group of four reaches a conclusion and presents their ideas to the entire senior staff and the CEO.

My client agreed that this would be an interesting approach to try. We tested it out prior to the next staff meeting with several of the action items on the agenda. To everyone's surprise these stepladder work groups come up with some interesting solutions and proposed decisions. They also said they felt more engaged in the decision-making process.

When we debriefed from the Stepladder Decision Making Process, team members reported that they liked being "forced into" sharing their ideas because they felt listened to and that their ideas were respected. The CEO told me later that he had never seen his team so animated and involved during their meetings.

Often times we think it requires big steps to make change within our organizations or with our teams, when in fact, small course corrections can often lead to big changes. Alfred Sloan played out his ideas at General Motors over a 35-year period. But some ideas can take root in much less time and we can achieve satisfying results when we learn to tap the wisdom of both the individual and the group.


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TED Talks

Bobbi McFerrin presenting at the World Science Festival dancing the Pentatonic Scale and leading the audience through a neurological exercise in innovation and leadership while helping to show how our minds are wired and our neurons fire (or sometimes misfire)!

This one will have you laughing at our common experiences and weeping over our common condition.



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Leadership Pittsburgh Inc.

Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. Accepting Applications for Fall 2011 Classes

Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. (LPInc.) is the premier resource for community leadership in Southwestern Pennsylvania and has an alumni network of over 1700 influential leaders working to maximize the potential of our region. I was honored to have been selected to participate in its program for established leaders—Leadership Pittsburgh—several years ago. This program is designed to enhance and connect leaders from across different organizations via programming focused on awareness of and engagement in community issues. A companion program, Leadership Development Initiative is also offered for high potential, emerging talent of companies and organizations and focuses on honing leadership skills for faster growth and heightened community engagement.

I have continued my involvement with LPInc. by providing professional coaching to members of both the Leadership Pittsburgh and Leadership Development Initiative participants.

LPInc. is now accepting applications for both programs for classes that will begin in Fall, 2011; An informational luncheon for interested candidates is being held on March 18th If you or a colleague are interested please follow this link, (http://lpinc.org/community_events.asp) or contact LPInc. directly at 412-392-4505.


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