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k. Quality of Decision-making and Command (1)

Quality of Decision-making and Command (Part 1)

Command is a generic term and can mean instructions, requests, or implied wishes.

Quality of decision-making and command determines whether decisions yield maximum utility for the stakeholders of an organisation, fail in this, or provide utility only for its leaders. A stakeholder is not merely a person or organisation with a financial interest, but one who is affected by it, directly or indirectly, in any way.

Individuals or organisations can either seek or seek to avoid command roles. Whether an individual seeks a command role depends on his genetic inheritance, upbringing, education, and experience, but the relative influence of each is not known. Ultimately, every organisation from a small club to a group of nations is commanded by a single individual. Thus, the factors which influence an individual’s attitude also affect any organisation he or she commands. There are many examples of a leader of one nation wishing to extend its influence over others.

The command component/ subordinate component relationship is known as the leader/ follower relationship when applied to individuals. Because each organisation and component organisation is led by an individual, the relationship is normally negotiated between individuals and provides emotional benefits to both. An individual’s needs are for survival/procreation, relatedness, and growth and it is the satisfaction of these needs which is the subject of negotiation. The needs of larger organisations are similar, i.e., they wish to survive, have a positive relationship with the society in which they operate, and grow. These organisational needs are interpreted by individuals when negotiations between organisations, from individual to international level, take place. However, the priorities we give to both individual and organisational needs change with time, and so too do the priorities we give to their satisfiers. Relationships can therefore alter. They can be newly established, adapt, become more or less satisfactory, or fail.

Any organisation or individual that seeks a command or leadership role will, either honestly or dishonestly, display an ability to supply motivators to potential subordinate organisations or followers. These motivators may be rewards or satisfiers of their followers’ needs. Thus, a potential individual leader will make displays of wealth, for example an expensive lifestyle, or of influence, for example name dropping. A larger potential command component will also make displays of wealth and influence. Alternatively, motivators may comprise contra-satisfiers or punishments, i.e., those things we are motivated to avoid. In this case, a potential individual leader will display power through physical strength, bullying, size of following, control over the satisfiers of potential followers, etc. A larger organisation may threaten legal action and a nation may threaten war.

The quality of any command depends on the following traits of the command component. In the case of individuals, each trait is caused by a combination of genetic inheritance, upbringing, education, and experience, but the relative influence of each is unknown. Again, because organisations are ultimately led by an individual, these traits will affect any larger decision-making body.

  1. The competence of the command component to make decisions, e.g., whether they have experience and understanding of the relevant field, and whether they have the cognitive skills to make appropriate decisions. Their focus is frequently relatively narrow. In practice, an understanding of human society is beyond our individual cognitive ability, and so we often simplify, focusing only on the particular organisation commanded and its immediate stakeholders. The more extensive the impact of the organisation, the more problematic this becomes. Thus for example, governing a nation needs to be supported by complex systems modelling of the type described at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/systems-thinking-for-civil-servants
  2. Whether the command component has a self-serving attitude or a collectivist one, i.e., a concern for themselves alone or for the organisation and its stakeholders as a whole. As explained in previous articles, we are social animals, and our individual interest strongly derives from that of our community. Usually, therefore, leaders will balance short term personal interests with longer term collectivist ones. However, this is not always the case, and some individuals will focus solely, or to a very large extent on immediate personal interest. Due to leader/ follower negotiations, this attitude can cascade down through an organisation and even affect whole nations. Ways of avoiding this will be discussed in a subsequent article.
  3. Whether the command component tends to centralise decision making upon itself or is willing to delegate it to subordinates. If the attitude is a self-serving one, then decisions will, of course, be centralised to ensure that they are in the interest of the decision-makers. If it is collectivist, then more delegation will take place. However, the more a decision is centralised, the more overloaded decision-makers will become. On the other hand, the more it can be in the interest of all stakeholders. The more it is delegated, the less likely it will be that decision makers become overloaded. On the other hand, the more likely it is to be in the interest of the sub-ordinates to whom it is delegated. Neither extreme is satisfactory. A balance needs to be struck, therefore, with monitoring and policing of decisions by both parties.
  4. Whether the command style is authoritarian or consultative. A consultative style requires time for consultation. Overloaded decision makers will, therefore, become more authoritarian, and less likely to fully acquaint themselves with the circumstances surrounding the decision. Due to this lack of information and criticism from more knowledgeable subordinates, authoritarian decisions are likely to be of lower utility than consultative ones. Self-serving decisions require mitigations such as justifying rationales. This also requires time and effort. Self-serving decision-makers will, therefore, also become more authoritarian. Those with more time or the interests of the organisation and its stakeholders at heart are more likely to be consultative.
  5. Whether the command component is informed or uninformed about the relevant issue. This includes the quality of information received from sub-ordinate components and from the environment. High quality information enables good decisions but requires resources to gather, verify and police.

Any one of these traits is sufficient to affect the quality of decision making. However, several can combine either to have a greater effect or to cancel one another out. The traits are also inter-related with one being sufficient but not necessary to cause the other. For example, a self-serving attitude leads to a tendency to centralise decision making. This in turn can lead to overload. Due to a lack of time to persuade, overload can lead to an authoritarian attitude. This, in turn, due to a lack of consultation, can lead to uninformed decisions. All these factors lead to poor decision making. Furthermore, because there is a causal time lag, their impact steadily degrades the quality of decision making over time. Thus, a self-serving attitude is a highly significant factor in poor decision making, whose effect grows with time. This causal cascade means that leaders, who may initially have only a slightly self-interested attitude, can over time slide down a slippery slope into despotism. A partial solution may be to place a time limit on any command role, as in a true electoral democracy. However, more is required to ensure that we are not ruled by the excessively self-serving.