03 Nov Grab Your Big Hat
I was about to cast the deciding vote. I was sitting around a conference table with several other leaders at a technology committee meeting, and we had just gone around the table voting on a decision to move forward a large investment for an HR tech initiative my team and I had been working on, pushing for, for a couple of years. We finally had the support and the budget available. And, the words of one of my prior bosses were playing over in my head. “Some decisions are “big hat” decisions, Shaara.” What he was talking about is making decisions that are for the good of the organization, not the good of just your organization. I voted no. It was the right thing to do. We had limited funds available to invest in technology and there was a more strategic, more critical investment needed in another department. My team was furious with me at first, but once I explained they understood what I did and why I did it. When leaders wear their “big hat” they look at the big picture, zooming out and considering the organization as a whole, often subjugating their personal or team’s interests for the good of everyone.
Not only can it be challenging to put the needs of many above the needs of the few, but the perspective of people in power often becomes altered by their position.
A huge part of great leadership in business or politics is the ability to shift perspectives. Leaders need to be able to deftly switch between thinking about their own department or team and thinking about the enterprise. When we wear our big hats, we think like the CEO. We think like an owner. Even when we aren’t. We make decisions that consider all the factors and business impacts, not just the ones that make us look good or that only work selectively or that we might really, really want.
Many leaders have a hard time relinquishing power for the greater good. Not only can it be challenging to put the needs of many above the needs of the few, but the perspective of people in power often becomes altered by their position. These leaders might choose to insist on filling their “critical” jobs during a downturn, and let other parts of the company let people go. One simple solution could have been to hold on new open positions and save jobs. Other leaders, on the other hand, put on their big hats and collaboratively worked towards creative solutions, such as making small pay-cuts across the board. Employees eagerly wore their big hats recognizing the difficult decisions, and the need for them to play their part in the survival and growth of the organization. It may be difficult to measure, but the big hat leader will be the one to reap the true rewards, not the small hat boss.
In politics, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been successful doing just that, resulting in her winning a second term as PM. She’s worn a big hat addressing climate change on the global stage, banning single-use plastics and instituting policies to cut carbon emissions significantly. Ardern is wearing a big hat by not only considering the health of New Zealand as a whole, but the health of the entire globe. Contrast that with other politicians that routinely make decisions that benefit special interests or are popular with only their constituencies. After the attack on two Christchurch mosques, Arden spoke out about racism against the Muslim communities targeted while also quickly working to outlaw semiautomatic weapons. A great leader works for the people as a whole as well as the various individuals that make up that whole.
It may be difficult to measure, but the big hat leader will be the one to reap the true rewards, not the small hat boss.
Balancing perspectives is key to successful leadership. Whether you’re a CEO or a Prime Minister, you have to be able to zoom in and zoom out when looking at a problem. Often these perspectives will work together and what benefits smaller groups will also benefit the whole. Ardern’s handling of the tragedy at Christchurch helped specifically promote the safety and equality of the Muslim community and in turn promote a more equal and safe society for all. Some of those leaders I worked with chose to sacrifice personal power and interests because in thinking for the long-term they decided what was best for the organization as a whole.
Here’s how you can make Big hat decisions:
> Be unselfish. Is this a decision that has organization impact or is using organization resources? If so, how will this outcome benefit everyone? Will it be the best use of the organization’s resources?
> Be honest. Would you support your own decision if you sat in another department or if you were the CEO?
> Be courageous. Did the decision you’re making come easy? Did you sacrifice something for the greater good? Does it make you look good at the expense of others?
When you’re making a decision for your team, department or organization, think about what hat you’ll wear. Will you wear the small hat and make a decision that pays off big for your team? Or, will you put on that big hat and think broadly and unselfishly, and make a decision that will positively reverberate through the organization for the short and long term.
Shaara Roman is founder and managing director of The Silverene Group, a culture consultancy that helps companies align their people programs with business goals.