Emilia DiMenco on The Value of Others in Decision Making

Emilia DiMenco Care for people, Ethics, Values-Driven Leaders

Emilia DiMenco is an executive vice president at Harris Bank. She also serves as a strategic advisor to the Women’s Business Development Center, through Harris Bank’s “Loaned Executive” program. The following is excerpted with permission from a conversation between Emilia and the CVDL.
As I first earned my way into leadership, I began to notice something: people expected me to have all the answers. And I tried to, at first. But I’ve learned that leaders contribute to the answer. They ask the right questions. They make the final decision. But they cannot be expected to have the answer immediately.
Decision making requires others. You’re not going to make the decision on your own. You have to hear your team share the pros and cons, and you have to remember that you’re hearing through someone else’s lens. You have to surround yourself with people who push back. I might have one view, but I usually don’t have all the information.

Strong leaders always practice this: it’s not new. Reagan did. So did Clinton. Obama does. Dictatorships aren’t sustainable. Bad decisions are made when you can’t disagree with the leader. Leaders like that might win the battle but they lose the war.
I’ve been blessed with a huge sphere of people – professionals I grew up with, people in the business community, people in the philanthropic community. I didn’t have them when I was younger, and I didn’t think I could ask for help. Now I rarely make a critical decision without consulting with people from this sphere of advisors.
Decision Making in Times of Crisis
Of course, there are situations when you don’t have the time to consult others. At that point, you have to rely on your knowledge, experience and values. A former CEO who promoted me twice said the most important factor in becoming an executive vice president was that if you received a call at 2.a.m. and had to make a critical decision for the company, with the information available, you’d make the best one possible in the company’s best interest.
Our leadership team faced this sort of situation on the day of 9/11. The safety of our employees was our first priority, and there was some reason to believe Chicago could be a target. Getting people home to their families was our priority.
As the week continued, flights didn’t resume right away. In 2001 we were still had a paper-based checking system. The checks we needed were sitting on runways, waiting for airports to reopen. Our team had to make some quick decisions about how to keep our customers operational. We had to use our knowledge of what was normal was so we could make decisions quickly.
Crisis situations can be emotional. You have to make decisions with a greater degree of risk – as best you can with all the information you have.
In my present role I work with small business owners and entrepreneurs. My advice for business owners has changed more because of personal life experiences than the recent economic situation. I tell them this: expand your network, get involved in your community, market as an individual as well as a company. When it comes to the economics, building these circles of advisors puts you in a better position when the economy turns down, because you have more places to go for help and advice. It helps you make better decisions – and it prepares you for a crisis. 
For more details on the Center for Values-Driven Leadership, visit our web site, www.cvdl.org.
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