Strategic Decision Making Paradigms: A Primer for Senior Leaders
Charles D. Allen, Breena E. Coates, George J. Woods III
The goal for the year at the United States Army War College (USAWC) is to prepare our students to be strategic leaders or to serve as effective advisers to the senior leadership of our military and this Nation. Accordingly, we help students gain an appreciation of the context and processes of strategic decision making. In the summer of 2005, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, addressed the Distance Education class with his thoughts on Strategic Leadership. Referring to his time as the
... n of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell commented that, at the apex of the organization, strategic leaders are concerned not only about internal workings of their organizations, but also about external aspects. In addition to making and influencing decisions internal to the Armed Forces, he also emphasized two external factors-assessing and mitigating risk as well as scanning the environment for windows of opportunity to influence decisions at the policy level. Powell's comments suggest there are two aspects of decisions at the strategic level of which leaders should be aware. First, there are the decisions made as senior representatives of their organizations. It is therefore important to have models and frameworks that inform how strategic leaders make or should make decisions which directly affect their organizations. These are the internal aspects of strategic decision making. Second, strategic leaders also serve in a milieu that is beyond their authority for making decisions. Leaders must have some sense of how external decisions are made and, importantly, understand the roles they can play in influencing those decisions. Decision-making frameworks for policy levels are important for strategic leaders to appreciate how they can best influence decisions in their external environment. This article's purpose is to present some models or frameworks for understanding how strategic leaders can make decisions as well as recognizing how to influence decisions that affect their organizations or institutions. The following models presented in this article are drawn from the social psychology, organizational behavior, sociology, and public administration literature. STRATEGIC DECISION MAKING Strategic decisions are non-routine and involve both the art of leadership and the science of management. Routine decisions of how to efficiently manage resources according to established procedures and clearly understood objectives is the technical work of management. Routine decisions are normally the purview of supervisors and middle-level managers that have the requisite authority and responsibility to take action.