This is the third in a series of articles for leaders in the trenches.  In the first article, we focused on why senior leaders may miss the strategic importance of decisions made by workers and line managers daily and in the second, the drivers for those decisions.

In this article, we’d like to look closely at our leaders in the trenches, the individuals making local decisions.  They are responsible, sometimes unknowingly, for half the market cap of a corporation on a daily basis.  One error, incident, or security compromise can negatively impact a company overnight.  Unfortunately, we often don’t recognize the strategic implications of our decisions.

Recognize Strategic Implications

In Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, Polonius advises his son “to thine own self be true”. The corporate need for a line or middle manager is not limited to administration, though it may seem that way. The real need is for leaders.

Seldom have I met a manager that has had it easy.  Often they are caught in the middle between people responsible for executing critically important jobs, facing fatigue issues due to workload, and their bosses who are directed to reduce headcount, costs, or both … to do more with less.

True Leaders in the workforce are unwilling to compromise their moral compass and are willing to push back hard when bad decisions are being made.  Not every decision is worth falling on the sword for.  However, when a decision involves safety or security, when the outcome of a simple error could result in significant loss of life or reputation for the company, the manager closest to the work needs to stand their ground.  That is what they are paid for… to protect the interests of the company.

As a leader selected by your company to manage an operation (small or large), you are entrusted to make decisions in the best interests of the company.  One of Coca Cola’s well-known mottos is “Think Globally… Act Locally”.  As a line manager, we need to recognize that our decisions, made locally, really can have strategic implications.

Some decisions, like approval of expense reports are unlikely to have strategic implications.  However, a decision to stop work because of safety concerns actually can.  Even a decision to stop work until contractual terms are clarified can be strategic.  To proceed without clarity could result in extensive rework later or worse.

How many decisions truly have strategic implications?  If you think in terms of consequences, many decisions made by line managers and workers are strategic in nature.  When addressing safety or security, a general rule of thumb is to err on the side of caution.

Test Your Decision

A local decision in the wrong culture can be career limiting.

Strategic decisions made locally are often difficult.  The implications of challenging authority or accepting the risk of incident or failure weigh heavily on a manager.  Sometimes it is best to reach out to a third party for a sanity check.  If we can be of assistance, don’t hesitate to get in touch.  Too much may be on the line.

This blog post is part of a series of installments on making strategic decisions locally:

  1. Part 1: Why Senior Leaders May Miss the Importance of Local Strategic Decision-Making
  2. Part 2: Understand the Drivers
  3. Part 3: Recognize Strategic Implications
  4. Part 4: Commit to the Fix