Fire and emergency management/Leadership I:Strategies for Company Success (H803)/Decision-Making Styles

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OBJECTIVES[edit | edit source]

The participants will:

1. Differentiate among the four decision-making styles identified.

2. Match appropriate decision-making styles to given situations using the Vroom-Yetton model.

3. Cite the advantages and potential disadvantages of group decision-making.



Planning, problem-solving, goal-setting and decision-making share much in common: these and the remaining management functions must be predicated upon meeting the stated mission of the fire department. Planning, problem-solving, and goal-setting each involve decision-making. Decision-making is the one managerial function at every level of the organization which directly affects and overlaps all others. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the fire service agency depends upon the decisions that are made, be they rendered by the chief officer, the first-line supervisor, or the group.

Any decision is a choice made between two or more possible alternative actions. Therefore, decision-making is the process of deliberation which leads to a final course of action. Less important decisions may sometimes be made intuitively--relying on hunches or gut feelings. However, more important decisions require a more rational, logical approach. Systematic decision-making requires the following steps:

1. Define the problem.

2. Collect information.

3. Generate alternative options.

4. Evaluate alternative options.

5. Select one option for implementation (make the decision).

As a general rule, the most important decisions are those which will impact many people, those which impact on departmental mission or goals, and/or those which could potentially cause serious negative consequences. Thus, quite often such decisions are referred to as "high risk" decisions. A CO is judged by the results of the decisions he/she makes. Few make mostly wrong decisions. Effective leaders make many high-quality decisions; they seldom make mistakes and on the few occasions that they do, they learn from those errors. Inexperienced decisionmakers and COs who make poor and mediocre decisions, often rely upon their personal experiences and preferences, previous decisions, or upon what others have done (past practice) or are doing (imitation). While past experience and tradition may be an invaluable source of data for reference (assuming quality decisions were made), what happens when a new question or problem arises for which there is no precedent upon which to draw? Trial and error? Hunch? The effective decisionmaker, on the other hand, consistently utilizes a purposeful and rational decision-making approach, matching the decision-making style to the situational characteristics.


Relationship Between Leadership and Decision-making

While leadership and decision-making are separate and unique, leadership obviously necessitates decision-making--be it on the fireground or at the station. While leader-made decisions are obviously necessary on the fireground, are leader-made decisions necessary and/or desirable in noncritical situations? What is the role of the leader in decision-making? The leader's role in decision-making, too, has been variously described. Vroom suggests we might view it as controlling the processes by which decisions are made in that part of the organization for which he or she is responsible (Victor Vroom, "Decision-Making and the Leadership Process," Journal of Contemporary Business, Autumn, 1974).How do leaders control the decision-making processes? Essentially by determining the extent and type of opportunity provided to subordinates to participate in making decisions.

DECISION-MAKING STYLES:[edit | edit source]

Style A--Autocratic The leader makes the decision alone. Discussion is limited to collecting relevant information.

Style C--Consulting The leader shares the decision issue with one or more subordinates--seeking ideas, opinions, and suggestions--and then makes a decision. All suggestions are carefully and objectively considered by the leader. The final decision may or may not be influenced by subordinate input.

Style G--Group Process The leader and the subordinates work together (as a group) until they arrive at a consensus decision. (All group members have an equal opportunity to air their opinions and argue for their point of view.) All suggestions are carefully and objectively considered by each group member. All group members accept the final decision and are committed to supporting its implementation.

Style D--Delegating The leader sets the parameters, then delegates the final decision to one or more subordinates. The leader is not involved in making the final decision but he/she supports the decision.

VARIATIONS IN INFLUENCE[edit | edit source]

As the leader moves from Style A to Style D, his/her influence over the final decision drops from 100% to almost zero. Yet, no matter which style is used, the leader retains ultimate responsibility and accountability! Thus, it's important to understand when to use various styles in order to maximize potential success.

Questions in Determining Style

Obviously, some decision-making styles are more appropriate for certain situations. Key questions affecting the leader's choice of a decision-making style would include the following:

1. Do you have a reasonable amount of time?

2. Does the leader have enough expertise to make a quality decision?

3. Do subordinates have enough expertise to make a quality decision?

4. Do the subordinates share the organizational goals to be attained by solving the problem?

5. Is the decision area complex with many possible solutions?

6. Is commitment to the decision by subordinates critical?

7. Is the decision likely to cause serious conflict among subordinate(s)?

8. Will the decision directly impact most subordinates?

9. Will the decision directly impact only a select few?

A useful resource for determining the decision-making style is the.

GUIDELINES[edit | edit source]

The preceding questions have been converted to a series of guidelines which assist leaders in selecting an appropriate style.

Guideline 1 (Time)

If an immediate decision is required, Styles C, G, and D should not be considered.

Guideline 2 (Leader Expertise)

If the leader does not possess adequate expertise to make a quality decision, Style A should not be considered.

Guideline 3 (Subordinate Expertise)

If the subordinate(s) lack(s) the knowledge or expertise necessary to make a quality decision, then Styles G and D should not be considered.

Guideline 4 (Goal Compatibility)

If subordinates do not appear to share organizational goals, Styles D and G should not be considered.

Guideline 5 (Degree of Complexity)

If the decision issue is complex and little information is available, and if the problem is ill-defined--for a quality decision, Styles A and D should not be considered.

Guideline 6 (Commitment)

If commitment of subordinates is critical to effective implementation and/or autocratic decisions are likely to be rejected by subordinates, Style A should not be considered.

Guideline 7 (Commitment With Conflict)

If commitment is critical to effective implementation, if autocratic decisions are likely to be rejected, and/or if there is likely to be serious conflict among subordinates in methods to attain goals, Styles A and C should not be considered. The selected style must allow for the venting of differences and resolution of the issue with full knowledge of the situation by everyone involved.

Guideline 8 (Group Consequence)

If a decision will have similar and nearly equal impact upon a number of individuals, styles which involve only one or a few of those affected should be eliminated from consideration. Each of those affected should have the opportunity for input and influence in the decision-making process. Avoid Style A.

Guideline 9 (Individual Consequence)

If a decision is to affect only one individual or a select few, styles which introduce uninvolved subordinates should be eliminated from consideration. Opportunity for the affected individual to influence the decision should be provided to maximize his/her acceptance and commitment to the decision. Avoid Styles A and G.

Vroom, V. H. and A. G. Jago. "Decision-making as a Social Process, Decision Sciences" 5 (1974): 749.


GROUP DECISION-MAKING[edit | edit source]

Approaches to Group Decision-making[edit | edit source]

Group decision-making occurs when a group of people discuss the problem or decision issue and render a decision. The decision may be advisory or actual; the decision may be by democratic process (majority) or consensus.

Both of the latter points need to be clearly spelled out at the beginning of any group decision-making activity. If the group decision is to be advisory, group members should be made aware of this at the outset; otherwise, a number of advantages may be lost and impair future group productivity as well as leader-subordinate relations. By the same token, if the group is told the leader will support and abide by the decision it reaches, the leader should in fact follow through and abide by it. Any parameters within which the group must work should be clearly specified at the outset.

With the group's role in the decision-making process clearly delineated, the second issue requires comment. In democratic group process, decisions are made on the basis of majority votes. Although sometimes necessary to reach a decision, the democratic decision-making process may create disharmony, conflict, and even divisiveness among coworkers. The manager should be alert to the symptoms of a win-lose mind set and intervene before it becomes a reality and a problem.

Consensus decision-making is a collaborative approach in which all involved in the decision-making process work together as a team and work through differences of opinion without generating a win-lose atmosphere. Everybody is heard; everyone listens. Everybody concurs with the decision (although it may be no one's real preference) and agrees to support it, and, everyone wins, including the organization. Because of the common goal orientation, the problem-solving (collaborative) focus and common frame reference emerging, understanding and support of and commitment to the decision is enhanced. Whether the decision is to be democratic or consensus, any parameters surrounding an acceptable decision must be defined (limit to spending, limits on other resources, etc.).

Advantages of Group Decision-making[edit | edit source]

Group decision-making offers a number of potential advantages over individual decision-making. The first advantage is the greater potential, total knowledge, information, and/or opinion it offers. With each group member bringing into the decision-making his/her own background knowledge and experience, frame of reference, and creativity, possibilities are multiplied with each member.

The same factors contribute to the probability of a more thorough examination of the issue and a greater number of ideas, approaches, and alternatives being generated. Analysis and evaluation of alternatives will tend to be more thorough and complete. The result: the probability of a better decision as opposed to a "satisficing" one. Because they have been involved from the beginning in the decision-making process, group members will better understand and appreciate the decision, accept the decision, and commit themselves to the decision.

Apart from resulting in better decisions and greater commitment to the decision, there are other advantages. Group decision-making is a highly motivational tool. You, the leader, have shown your trust in their knowledge, ability and judgment (self-esteem). You have given them some control over their lives in the workplace (stress-reduction benefit).

Reaching a decision, especially on a problem lacking clear definition and structure, provides them with a real sense of accomplishment (achievement). Group decision-making also contributes to the professional growth of the members. They not only learn and practice decision-making skills to help prepare them for leadership roles, but also increase their understanding and tolerance for diversity. They learn to examine ideas from perspectives other than their own--including the management perspective.

Potential Advantages and/or Disadvantages[edit | edit source]

Several phenomena associated with group decision-making may well be positive attributes--unless they go too far. These factors are disagreement (versus conflict), time, and risk-taking.

One of the advantages most frequently cited is greater input. Because of the scope and diversity of viewpoints, it is assumed the best choice will emerge. Honest disagreement, controversy, and exchange are healthy. What happens when conflict becomes counterproductive? Group process may break down. Even if an excellent decision is made, negative feelings may persist. The skilled group leader/facilitator will watch for symptoms of impending conflict and strive to defuse the potential crisis. Separating the people from the problem and focusing on interests, not positions, are two guidelines the leader must practice in his/her own interactions with group members and stress to group members to thwart vocal disagreement from becoming a detriment to group progress.

Time requirements can also be an asset or a liability in group decision-making. Because of the greater number of input sources, and often greater diversity of opinion going into the group decision-making process, groups typically need greater amounts of time to move through the decision-making process. Because of the greater time expended in generating and evaluating alternatives, and the more thorough analysis and discussion, the quality of the decision may well be higher. But if the process is rushed, the advantages of group decision-making are lost. Hence, if minimum time is available to reach a decision, an individually made decision may be the better style.

The potential liability is simply stated: cost. Cost in time away from regular job function and/or in overtime. The leader must consider the utilization of group decision-making from a cost-effective viewpoint in determining whether or not to use it.

Earlier the issue of system versus risk in decision-making was addressed. Groups tend to be more willing to take risks in decision-making. Change necessitates risk; however, change forthe sake of change may neither be productive nor healthy. Careful evaluation of alternatives is essential by the group to ensure calculated risk-taking.

Potential Drawbacks (Disadvantages) of Group Decision-making[edit | edit source]

Group decision-making is not without several potential drawbacks. Social pressures (apart from group think) may be involved. Social pressure is a major factor in conformity. Within groups, members of social cliques or work crews may feel the necessity of supporting the informal leader or most vocal member of their twosome or threesome and hence fail to be totally open and honest in sharing their ideas and opinions. There is the possibility of less than professional trade-offs on the part of the group members to gain support for their decisions.

Interpersonal obstacles such as personality conflicts, unique psychological needs of some individuals (such as the need to dominate), even the overly talkative can interrupt the group decision-making process. The leader/facilitator must be alert to impending problems in this area, and if necessary, talk with the responsible individual(s) in private.

Another problem that can emerge in group decision-making is that of hidden agendas, an ulterior motive. Often this ulterior motive entails a vested self-interest in the outcome of the group's decision. This person may dominate, intimidate, or refuse to be cooperative with others in arriving at a collaborative decision. The presence of this individual cannot only impede the progress of the group in rational decision-making but also can impact the members' morale and enthusiasm, resulting in a less-than-optimal decision.

The discussion leader should be aware of those with such hidden agendas. In regard to the preceding obstacle potentials, it must be remembered that groups tend to bring out the best and the worst in individuals. The use of group decision-making may unduly raise the expectations of subordinates with reference to outcome of the decision (overnight changes) and future involvement. It is important that the CO help subordinates keep their involvement in perspective.


The success of a CO is not a matter of luck or fortune. It's a composite of knowledges, skills, effort, and personal attributes. Sometimes described as movers, shakers, goers, and doers, effective leaders also make effective decisions. Marvin identifies what he believes to be the 12 most common characteristics of effective decisionmakers. Effective decisionmakers are:

Synoptic. They focus on the big picture, considering all possible opportunities and potentials.

Dissatisfied. They have an inherent preoccupation to make the best better.

Sensitive. They continuously and consistently exercise acute sensitivity to others and their environment.

Catalytic. They make things happen and assume personal responsibility to do so.

Opportunistic. They take advantage of opportunities and even create opportunities where there seemingly are none.

Skill-directed. They do not play trial and error; they rely on things they do well and make the most of available inputs and resources.

Innovative. They are creative and they draw upon the creativity and strengths of others.

Forward thinking. They look to the future and search for (more) opportunities.

Resourceful. They utilize the expertise and ideas of others, involving them in decision-making as appropriate.

Evaluative. They know what they are doing, asking the right questions and pursuing the answers to those questions.

Expedient. They get things done.

Courageous. They take calculated risks and they act, accepting responsibility for the things they do.

For reference, see P. Marvin. Developing Decisions for Action (1971) p. 46. The professional fire service officer will compare his/her decision-making characteristics to that of effective decisionmakers. Doing so enables one to identify areas in which he/she can strive for growth, enhancing decision-making skills. Dare to improve yourself and your decision-making skills. Make a decision to do so and act!


The confident CO knows that there are 3 summary principles involved in effective decision-making regardless which style of decision-making is used.

Make the Decision

First, he/she makes a rational decision. In making non-programmed decisions, he/she follows the purposeful decision-making process and adapts the decision-making style to match the nature of the decision. A decision is made.

Implement and Evaluate

After reaching a high-quality decision, the effective decision-maker implements it. He/She not only implements the decision but also monitors its impact. He/She is alert for unforeseen consequences and acts to avoid unnecessary disruption caused by the decision. He/She implements the decision and evaluates results.

Recognize That You Probably Cannot Satisfy Everyone

The effective decision-maker recognizes that in reality, one cannot expect to satisfy everyone every time one makes a decision. He/She realizes that even with the collaborative consensusapproach some will likely be less than enthusiastic about any given decision.

The effective CO is not striving to win a popularity contest, or to be one of the group. The ultimate decision must reflect and contribute positively to the good of the group and the fire service. He/She doesn't try to satisfy everyone. The CO will be judged by the quality of the decisions he/she makes.

SUMMARY[edit | edit source]

Decision-making is the one managerial/leadership function which directly affects and overlaps all other functions.

Rational decision-making requires the decisionmaker to use a systematic process along with the appropriate style.

Effective decisionmakers are aware of their own strengths and limitations.

They seek to improve the quality of decisions made and accept responsibility for their decisions.

They understand that the well-known adage applies to them: "Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am master of my fate and captain of my soul."

GLOSSARY[edit | edit source]

1. Decision--A choice made between two or more alternative options.

2. Decision-making--A process of deliberation which leads to a final decision.

3. Rational Decision-making--A systematic process which relies on defining the problem, collecting information, generating multiple alternatives, and analyzing various alternatives in order to select the most appropriate decision.

4. Consensus Decision-making--A collaborative approach in which everyone is heard and all views are carefully considered. Everyone supports the final decision even if it is not their preferred solution.

BIBLIOGRAPHY[edit | edit source]

Baron, Robert. Behavior in Organizations. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1983).

Cleveland, H. "The Decision-Makers." The Center Magazine. Sept.-Oct. 1973.

Didactic Systems. Management in the Fire Service. (Boston: National Fire Protection Association, 1977).

Drucker, Peter. Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. (New York: Harper and Row, 1974).

Gordon, Judith. A Diagnostic Approach to Organizational Behavior. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1983).

Graham, Gerald. "Strong Managers Are Decisive; The Weak Ones Are Not," Kansas City Star. August 5, 1984. p. 12F.

Hitt, Michael, Middlemist, R. Dennis and Robert Mathis. Effective Management. (St. Paul: West Publishing, 1979).

Marvin, Philip. Developing Decisions for Action. (Homewood: Dow Jones-Irwin, 1971).

Mintzberg, Henry, Raisinghari, Dara and Andre Theoret, "The Structure of 'Unstructured' Decision Process," Administrative Science Quarterly. June (1976).

Shepard, David. From Personal to Professional Management. (Boston: Holbrook Press, 1976).

Simon, Herbert. Administrative Behavior. Third edition (New York: The Free Press, 1976).

Vroom, Victor. "Decision-making and the Leadership Process," Journal of Contemporary Business. Autumn, 1974.

Vroom, Victor and A.J. Jago, "Decision-making as a Social Process," Decision Sciences. 5, (1974): 743-769.

Vroom, Victor. Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1976).

Vroom, Victor and P.W. Yetton. Leadership and Decision-making. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973).