|Training for Elected Leadership - The Councillor as Decision-maker (HABITAT, 1994, 22 p.)|
|Part I. Essay on the councillor as decision-maker|
While identifying problems and opportunities is seen as the first step in the rational decision-making process, we believe there is something that precedes this. It's not a step, necessarily, but more like an attitude or a mind set - a way of looking at things. We're talking about the need to be aware and to have vision. Like problems and opportunities, awareness and vision lend themselves to description by contrast.
Awareness is seeing "what is." Vision is seeing what "can be." Awareness is more tactical, short-term and specific. Vision is longer term and strategic in its perspective.
Awareness looks at the details; vision paints the "big picture."
Awareness involves convergent thinking (focusing in). Vision is at its best when our thoughts diverge from the beaten path.
Awareness is often intense, involving constant scanning of the environment for clues. Vision comes to us best when we transcend our immediate environment.
Awareness is more rational, or left-brain oriented, in its application of the thinking process. Vision is more prone to tap our intuitive instincts which are controlled by the right-half of our brain. While both thought processes are important to each of these councillor skills and behaviours (i.e., being aware and being visionary), we would argue they are also two very different attributes.
Both vision and awareness are valuable leadership skills. Each requires its own set of tools, and combined, they define our perceptions of reality. They also provide the foundation upon which we make decisions about solving problems and taking advantage of opportunities.
To recap our discussion thus far, decision-making is based on a process of maker thinking often associated with (a) rationality and (b) problem-solving. But, problem solving is only half of the challenge when it comes to being a councillor. You must also be looking for opportunities for your community. This requires not only awareness about what is happening in your community but a vision about what can be. Sometimes it is important to allow rationality to give way to intuition and even fantasy at times; to stop asking "why?" and ask, "what if?
The discussion about awareness and vision also conveys insights into two decision-making patterns, those associated with reactive and pro-active thinking. Proactive decisions are based on future conditions that may not be totally understood. Reactive decisions are based on current and past information and insights. Both are important to the council's effectiveness. As a councillor it is important to understand how your council makes decisions. Are you and your colleagues inclined to be more pro-active or reactive in your decision-making processes? We suspect the answer is reactive because you have inherited such a backlog of problems from previous councils. Nevertheless, the skills in being pro-active as decision-makers are important even when dealing with long-standing problems. Pro-activity tends to help you seek out new and innovative solutions.