A Guide to Clear Decision Making


Most of us are eager to influence decisions that could affect us, but trouble may arise when those involved in decision-making have conflicting perspectives. This friction can lead to a battle over authority and control and result in incorrect decisions or broken relationships. To avoid this, we need a way to respond when controversial or high-stakes decisions come up. How do we avoid unhealthy conflict and still make sure the correct decisions are made? 

During my career as a zoo veterinarian, the right thing to do was clear. We all wanted the animals to thrive under our care. Why, then, would conflict occur when making decisions about their treatment? The primary answer lies in our human nature. We human beings have a strong desire to obtain authority and control. We fail to realize, though, that this desire works against our ability to influence others.  

The following dialog illustrates conflicting perspectives and the desire for control:

The good news is that we can overcome our desire for control by adhering to an important principle. Simply stated, it is this: To gain influence, give up control. That is, to obtain long-lasting organizational weight and power, abandon the desire for authority and control. Yes, this principle is counterintuitive, so most of us would rather disregard it. We often hear that striving for control is the noble thing to do and the way to ensure the right decision. But, we work with people. So, if we wrestle with people for control, we will lose valuable influence, trust and credibility in the long run.

Instead, we can choose to respond with humility and respect, treating others as people like us. We can act to serve their needs as well as our own. If we follow this path, our influence in the organization and with other people will soar. Application of this principle can lead to strong, trusting partnerships with vast synergy. In the end, giving up control leads to more influence and better decisions.  

As noted in the graphic below, an inverse relationship exists between control and influence.


Further practical steps flow from this principle. Once a partnership develops, roles and authority can be clarified. One party takes on the “Decider” role and the other the “Adviser” role for a given decision. The Decider takes responsibility and has the ultimate decision-making authority. Good Deciders seek input from Advisers; they take full responsibility for outcomes and blame no one if things go wrong. In contrast, the role of the Adviser is to influence the Decider. They can change the minds of others by providing evidence, interpreting that evidence and providing their recommendations. Their manner must be professional and respectful, honoring the Decider’s position.

Veterinarians and medical doctors often find themselves in this Adviser role. They have specialized knowledge and often uncover the problem first and in the most depth. So, they can drive the decision-making process by initiating dialog and providing their perspective.

It is important to remember that neither role is more valuable than the other, and both are necessary for making good decisions. Indeed, partnerships do not succeed when individuals have equal and identical functions. Rather, they thrive when roles are defined and distinct. 

The circle of influence can increase when trusting partnerships are established:

circle of influence.png

As noted earlier, giving up the desire for control leads to greater influence and better decisions. It does this in many ways:

• It builds trust and strong relationships.

• It helps Deciders make better decisions. 

• It encourages Deciders to take responsibility for their decisions. 

• It allows Advisers to use their unique skill sets and perspectives to benefit the greater good. 

• It gives everyone the opportunity to contribute at a higher level.

Giving up control to gain influence indeed is a paradox. Even so, it is a powerful servant leadership principle. It is worth understanding and applying in our work and home environments. It achieves better results and becomes the right thing to do in serving others. Give up control to gain influence. You will not regret it!


Donald L. Janssen, DVM, Dipl ACZM