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Lessons in Decision Making from the Yellow Birds

Angie Morgan, August 21, 2017

Life Lessons in Decision Making from the Yellow Birds
My youngest son, Gard, just started t-ball. On the day of his first game, the coach gathered his crew together to pass out bright yellow jerseys and asked the kids what they wanted to name their team. After looking at the jerseys, he made a recommendation: “How about the Yellow Jackets?” The kids were quiet for a few seconds, then a young voice proposed an alternative. “Can we be the Yellow Birds?”The coach paused for a second before saying, “Umm, okay. What do we all think about the Yellow Birds?” No one said a thing. A few minutes later, the Yellow Birds took the field.

My oldest son, Judge, observed the whole process. He, of course, had better ideas for team names, like Yellow Zombies, or Yellow Yetis. But I reassured Judge that Yellow Birds was perfect – it’s refreshingly innocent. Besides, this was a low-stakes decision. The team name of a Traverse City Little League group wasn’t going to make or break their season.

I’ll offer, though, that the decision-making process employed by the Yellow Birds, while great for t-ball, is one I’ve also observed in business environments where it isn’t as effective. It shows up in the type of process where:

  • The executive makes a recommendation, and someone proposes an alternative that seems both surprising and out of context … yet, that’s the decision the group enacts upon because no one wants to ruffle feathers (pun intended).
  • The group on the receiving end of the choice is hesitant to provide input or criticism because they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, so they go along to get along.
  • Others outside of the group taunt the decision-makers for the “perceived” less-than-best choice (and propose alternatives that they would have selected had they had a seat at the table).

As leaders, one of the most important things we do is make decisions. While not every decision we make requires collaboration, here are a few things to keep in mind for the ones that do:

  • Invite multiple opinions to the dialogue – encourage the quieter voices, too, to share their perspective. If you’re not hearing enough ideas, ask people if they need more time to consider alternatives.
  • Encourage respectful debate before a decision is made, which will help get all the ideas out there before a choice is settled on.
  • Don’t be defensive of your idea – and encourage others to divorce themselves emotionally from their recommendation. Collaboration isn’t about who’s right or wrong – it’s about making the best call.
  • When a decision is made, own it –and encourage others to own it, too (the opportunity for dissent is during debate – after a call is made, it needs to be supported).

And, a note about ownership – own your choices with pride, even if they’re not the ones you would have made and/or were difficult to make. Pride is contagious.

Case in point: as I sat in the stands for one of the last Yellow Bird’s games of the season, I watched how well the coach owned his team name – his pride inspired team pride. These weren’t the reluctant Yellow Birds. These were the fierce, ferocious Yellow Birds – chests puffed, heads held high. Leaders can do wonders when they honor their choices with a positive example that can be followed easily by others.

We have a whole chapter in SPARK related to decision-making – and how to take action on ideas that matter to you most. Curious? Learn more by visiting www.sparkslead.us

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