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The Continuum of Acceptable Compromise

Decisions, decisions….choices, options, alternatives, opportunity costs, risks….

Leadership is a complex endeavour.  Some decisions seen to be easier than others to take. 

And despite the same context and circumstances, there will be decisions that might well be different depending on who it is that is making the decision.


Why is that I wonder?


Of course, there are many things that drive our decision making:

  • the availability of information and how much we know about the context,

  • how secure we feel about the likely outcome of a given course of action (predictability)

We see these often as an axis in VUCA (volatility, unpredictability, complexity, ambiguity) charts.

And there are others:

  • The influence of (and alignment with) to our values

  • Our perspective and how we see the context

When I coach school leaders, the idea of choice, locus on control, the process of decision-making, the criteria on which a decision is based etc often arise in our discussions.

These are complex and multi-layered considerations.

Additionally, a reference to levels of ‘compromise’ is also typically part of these discussions. 

Rarely is a decision simply the ‘right one’.  Often it is framed in relation to other choices (relative choice), and becomes ‘the best decision given the alternatives and current levels of understanding’ rather than the ‘right’ decision.

This has led to an idea of ‘The Continuum of Acceptable Compromise’

In the right side of the continuum choices are clear and more straightforward.  Typically there would be

  • Clear and comprehensive understanding of the current context

  • A high degree of predictability about likely outcome given the decision being made

  • A close alignment and resonance of the decision with one’s (or the team’s collective) values

  • Closely linked to desired outcomes, with little if any perceived risk

We move to the left of the continuum as the choices and potential decisions that can be made become more complex and less clear (ambiguous), less predictable (volatile and unpredictable), more risky (perceived), have a feeling of greater dissonance (emotional, cognitive).

That is to say, they exhibit more VUCA characteristics.

The Continuum of Acceptable Compromise enables us to move away from the binary thinking of making the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ decision, and to  acknowledge that many decisions place the leader in a space of compromise.

The question then becomes – in any given situation, where is your boundary of acceptable compromise?

Curious to hear your perspective…….

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