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  • Writer's pictureTatyana Dobreva

Leader Day: Eliminating low-risk decision paralysis in group settings

Updated: Jan 26, 2020

"Where do you guys want to go for food?" "Oh, there is a really good Chinese place with--" "No! We did Chinese last week, how about the new pizza place? You can make your own!"

I felt a restless sensation propagate to my hands and legs. This feeling breeds from a group of individuals spending a significant amount of time trying to make low-risk decisions. The minutes we could actually be spending having interesting conversation or exchanging memories were stolen by the silent beast of group decision paralysis. Without uttering a word, I began walking to the nearest restaurant from our source location. The group blindly followed me and we settled to eat. When something bugs me I am impatient to find a solution. That night my impatience birthed an an idea and I was eager to try it out! The following morning, I summoned my partner in crime to listen to my idea.

"I have an experiment that I would like to try with you"

We have a great overlap of interests and spend a lot of time together, so he was the perfect guinea pig!

"Every other day one of us will be the leader. This individual will make all decisions on what to eat, where to go, and what to do, within the bounds of each individual's responsibilities" I explained.

David agreed, and he and I have been doing what we now call "Leader Day" for 2 years, making iterations to fit our busy individual and shared schedules, deadlines, and hobbies. After hearing several people tell us this was an interesting idea, some even trying it out themselves, it seemed like a good idea to write out the protocols and lessons learned, and discuss how this system can work, even in people who do not share interests and time as intimately as we do.

Let's dive into how it actually works!

Rules of the leader day system:

  1. The leader is the ultimate decision-making authority on their day, within whatever kinds of bounds the group has agreed upon. For example, the group could agree that:

  2. Followers are allowed to mandate bedtime maximums (i.e. since the follower has an 8:00 am meeting the next day, they must be able to get to bed by 11:00pm)

  3. Followers are allowed to set budgetary constraints (i.e. the follower is not willing to spend more than X dollars on dinner/entertainment)

  4. The leader is not able to overrule any of the follower's pre-existing responsibilities. You can't make your follower skip work, ignore their family emergency, etc.

  5. The leader is not allowed to force the follower to do things they are uncomfortable with (be reasonable!)

  6. The follower is allowed to make alternative suggestions, but is not allowed to complain unless their discomfort threshold is reached (see #3)

  7. The leader is limited to asking the follower's opinion no more than 3 times per reign

Qualitative results:

  1. Time and stress spent on any decision was significantly reduced. As a follower, you don't stress about making the right decision, and as a leader, you stress less about maximizing the group's preference (they'll have their chance on their leader turn!)

  2. Being a temporary leader makes it apparent how precious time is. You only have a few hours to do what you want before it's the next leader's turn, so you feel compelled to use your time wisely!

  3. I saw a marked increase in the number of to-dos on my list get marked off. Making decisions for another individual encourages you to be more productive. It lets you feel both the sense of power and responsibility. You want to show them that you can plan time wisely and not disappoint. You're on a mission! This may at first seem stressful, but if you accept the challenge you can feel your leading abilities blossom.

  4. It's a good way to get to know somebody. Observing what and how someone chooses to do something is an excellent way to learn about their preferences, skill sets, and productivity tricks.

  5. Thinking big. Sometimes when we're alone we tend to get focused on details and lose sight of the big picture. Being a leader forces you to think about the end goal. Why are we doing this? Are we on track? Is there a more optimal way to do this?

  6. Being a follower does not make you a mindless slave or a robot. In fact, you get the fun role of being an observer and a student. If you see a person in charge do something inefficiently or stumble over some decisions, you can discuss those. We found it to be healthy thing to critique the person in the leading position.

  7. Being a follower teaches you both patience and boosts your listener skills. Sometimes you may observe the leader make decisions that you would not, causing you to feel a sense of frustration and rebellion. By trusting someone else to take the lead you expand your horizon on how a different task can be accomplished and learn to appreciate the ride. It's often a good idea to ask why a leader is making a certain decision to better understand their motive. All in all, leader day is great for keeping your ego in balance.

  8. This system is great to help you identify the type of people you flourish around.


My friend(s) and I work during the day, how would this work?

Leader does not have to make all the decisions. You can choose what kind of decisions the leader will oversee. For example, when my partner and I are at work, the leader of the day chooses when to eat lunch and what we will discuss if our schedules allow.

I am the leader and my follower(s) is/are sick!

As a leader you will be faced with obstacles. Your people not being well is one of them! This is an opportunity to get creative. You can find ways to still achieve a subset of your goals by offering your follower(s) a comforting environment. Ask them if they need anything and watch over them. Being a leader does not entitle one to dictatorship.

I really want to go an event on this day, but it is not my leader day!

Switch! If you and your friend(s) have a good communication, switching a leader day should be no problem. Sometimes canceling leader days and restarting leader day schedule also works. For example, if you both have an all day event, you can do no leader on that day and start back up another day!

Isn't this system just avoiding the problem of poor communication? If your group has good synergy there should be no need for a leader day.

While it does circumvent poor communication/group decision-making skills, it also adds many features that you don't get from traditional group dynamics, such as building leadership qualities, learning about each other's unfiltered preferences, and nurturing trust. Also, there is no such thing as a seamless group decision!

Democracy still has its place, of course, when it comes to making significant decisions influencing many people. However, playful dictatorship in low-risk decision contexts has shown many advantages! If you're interesting in trying to implement Leader Day with your friend(s), partner, or work group, let me know! I would be happy to brainstorm a protocol that works for you.

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