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Articulation of Competency: Principled Decision Maker

Wendi D. Sparling

Azusa Pacific University


Principled Decision Maker

There is an expectation that leaders are responsible for and to those being lead. Decisions

being made can be impactful for those involved. Those decisions are not always favorable or

popular. Those in leadership are expected make decisions in a wise, decisive manner. Sometimes

these decisions are divisive, but should be just and done in earnest. Principled decision makers

have clarified and established their ethical boundaries and are committed to honoring those

boundaries, yet are thoughtful in their objective considerations. Despite circumstances they are

resolute in maintaining inclusivity, honesty, and transparency.

Uncompromising commitment to accountability and responsibility are indicated through

the ability to maintain the delicate balance between collaboration, teamwork and shared decision

making while still honoring what is considered right and true. Principled decision makers are

concerned with character and commitment. Collaborative, yet decisive problem solving involves

intentional consideration that is both pragmatic and subjective. Their decisions are not made

lightly, but with thoughtful consideration. Known for careful analysis between what is felt and

what is known, their decisions and plans can be trusted.

Morals, values, and ethics are also incorporated in several different leadership theories

that are of interest to a principled decision maker. Authentic, transformational, and servant

leadership theories contain a moral and ethical component (Northouse, 2016). Ethical leaders are

concerned with respect, service, justice, fairness, honesty, and building community (Northouse,

2016). What is instinctive and instinctual to a principled decision maker is influenced by maker’s

ethics and morals. Ethics is “concerned with what leaders do and who they are” (Northouse,

2016, p. 330). Ethics provide the basis for what it means to be a “morally decent human being”

(Northouse, 2016, p. 330). Central to ethical leadership is the concern for treating others with

“dignity and respect - as human beings with unique identities,” (Northouse, 2016, p. 336).

Seeking to align their personal values with that of the organization, principled decision

makers have clarified who and what they believe. Authentic leaders are concerned with values

alignment for both themselves and their followers (George, 2015 & Northouse, 2016). Authentic

leadership is concerned with self-awareness and truly understanding what and how experiences

have shaped an individual as a person and as a leader (George, 2015). Authentic leadership

emphasizes a process of becoming a leader who is “purposeful, value centered, self-disciplined,

and compassionate” (Northouse, 2016, p. 206). It is in the cultivation of characteristics to be

considered “trustworthy and believable by their followers” (Northouse, 2016, p. 206).

Intuitive analysis also comes from experience. Authentic leaders have established non-

negotiables through reflection on their crucible moments (George, 2015). Crucible moments are

the challenging trials that cause doubt, disappointment, and despair (George, 2015).

Understanding the response to crucible moments help define and shape who a leader who will

potentially become. Described as “adaptive capacity” (p. 44-45), crucibles provide learning

opportunities for a leader to engage in knowing more about oneself, others, and need for

necessary changes (Thomas, 2008). It is through understanding these crucible moments that a

leader will truly understand their values (George, 2015). Leaders need to be clear about their

own guiding principles before they can expect the same of others (Thomas, 2008). This is

important when it comes to responsibility and accountability, particularly when it involves

shared decision making and team building. Servant leaders know that “people need to

understand, see the purpose, be in personal alignment, and be willing and able to do what is

requested,” (Keith, 2015, p. 48). Authentic leaders ultimately, concern is in assisting followers in

aligning “interests in order to create a common good” (Northouse, 2016, p. 207).

When input is needed or desired, a principled decision maker should be willing to listen.

Objective decision making encourages outside perspective. Encompassed in this is the idea of

openness. Openness allows for creativity, innovation, and allows for conflicting viewpoints

(Preskill & Brookfield, 2009). These are all beneficial for inclusive decision making as it

promotes possibilities. A leader should be willing to consider all aspects and implications.

“Becoming critically reflective also raises our chances of taking informed leadership actions,”

(Preskill & Brookfield, 2009, p. 45).

Additional leadership concepts like situational approach also inform decision making.

This approach involves a supportive and directive leadership styles that is in alignment with any

given situation (Northouse, 2016). Communication styles also differ depending on the situation.

Situational approach leaders know when to ask for input and when to be decisive.

Interpretation of knowledge.

As a principled decision maker, I have learned that when there is a perceived

incongruence between personal convictions and organizational or situational objectives, it can be

detrimental to my decision-making capabilities. Reactionary rather than thoughtful consideration

are generally a result. My ability to think, make wise decisions, and have the emotional

intelligence to have meaningful interactions with others are difficult endeavors when emotive

rather than intelligently and intentionally reflective. It hinders my ability to effectively lead, be

collaborative, and respectfully speak truth with conviction. Tempering righteous indignation with

what is actual truth can be a considerable challenge for someone with strong moral conviction.

As a Christian leader, it is important to be in alignment with God’s will and purpose (Keller,

2012). Leading as a follower of Christ in culture or context that does not share that conviction

can be a challenge. Living out Romans 12:1-21, knowing His good and perfect will, and living to

His expectation requires prayer, contemplation, and community (Chittister, 1991). It eludes to “if

you are in a place where your values fit, you’re better than most to take on challenges and

succeed...you’ll have a foundation of trust and security that come from knowing that you are in

the right place,” (Behar, 2009, p. 39).

Application of knowledge.

Weighing various options against personal convictions are common place for a principled

decision maker. Personal application of this competency was recently demonstrated in making a

quick health decision about a beloved family pet, Fudge (see Figure 1). An emergency

veterinarian visit revealed a potentially fatal condition that needed immediate treatment. Facing a

significant financial obligation with potentially little hope, there was little time to contemplate

the options. Advice was to put her down. Determining that her life had value and was significant

enough to attempt treatment, decisions were made very quickly. Fortunately, as tests later

revealed, the doctor was incorrect. Experience provided valuable insight on intuition, objectivity,

and faith. What seems reasonable is not always the best decision.

Professionally, a decision needed to be made to pursue a new process. After careful

consultation and collaboration as to the efficacy and need, I made the decision to move forward.

Unfortunately, as it sometimes happens with principled decision making, this was not the correct

course of action. The decision is no longer relevant to the present circumstances. As emails

indicate, there was sufficient and reasonable subjective and objective consideration regarding

timing and necessity (see Figure 2). Learning experiences revealed that sometimes the most well

intended decisions do not always produce the intended result.


Although I employ my knowledge and skill set as a principled decision maker regularly

in making my own personal decisions, rarely is there opportunity to formally utilize and develop

skills in a professional context. Future aspirations involve work on my emotional intelligence

(EQ) as related to my ability to be assertive, yet collaborative. Taking initiative without being

perceived as arrogant or pushy and without positional support can be a challenge. There have

been times that speaking up has been discouraging process. My desire is to be truly heard,

acknowledged and valued for what I can contribute intellectually by offering differing

perspectives and do likewise for others. Admittedly, this has been an oft repeated and articulated

goal. Of interest are the Self-Management strategies as identified by Bradberry and Greaves in

Emotional Intelligence 2.0. Of the 17 strategies, the following are of interest:

1. 9. Take Control of Your Own Self-Talk.

2. 12. Focus Your Attention on Your Freedoms, Rather than Your Limitations.

3. 10.Visualize Yourself Succeeding.

4. 16. Put Mental Recharge in Your Schedule.

Starting with these first four can begin now. Working through the suggestions offered,

work through the first one.

1. Share the goal.

2. At least once a week take the time to intentionally think about and journal the progress.

3. Increase frequency until it becomes a habit.

4. As mastery is achieved, move to the second, third, and fourth.

5. Add other strategies as these are achieved.



Behar, H. (2009). It’s not about the coffee. Lessons on putting people first from a life at

Starbucks. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional intelligence 2.0: The world’s most popular

emotional intelligence test. San Diego, CA: TalentSmart.

Chittister, J. (1991). Wisdom distilled from the daily. Living the rule of St. Benedict today. San

Francisco, CA: HarperCollins.

George, B. (2015). Discover Your True North, Revised and Updated. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and practice (7 ed.). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE

Preskill, S. & Brookfield, S.D. (2009). Learning as a way of leading. Lessons from the struggle

for social justice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Articulation of Competency: Principled Decision Maker



(Fig. 1. Fudge just 48 hours after surgery.)


(Fig 2. As the screen shot indicates, this was one of 81 emails between departments.)