David Wilson Reflects on Harvard Leadership Program

David Wilson

David Wilson, Assistant City Manager of West Hollywood

Thank you to the City of West Hollywood and the California City Management Foundation for supporting me in the opportunity to attend the Harvard Kennedy School, Leadership Decision Making Program. This is more than just an executive education course; it’s a life-enhancing experience. It combines the teachings of tenured Harvard professors that are global leaders in their respective fields with a diverse group of accomplished leaders from all over the world. Our particular cohort included women and men from sixteen different countries ranging from ambassadors and military officers to cybersecurity experts and heads of national departments.

Right off the bat, we experienced how inaccuracy and bias influence our decisions. This was evident in an exercise at the Harvard Decision Science Lab. In this exercise, forty percent of our well-educated cohort selected to have dental surgery by a dentist that did not have the best success rate despite having access to all the information necessary to make a choice for the best likely outcome. If the framing of information and deep-seated bias can influence how we make decisions about our own health, it’s certainly prevalent in how public policy decisions are made. This course helps participants became choice architects that design optimal decision making environments, thereby mitigating the impact of negative influences.

These types of decision making environments are even more important in today’s society. As this country has become increasingly divided, making rational, evidence-based decisions can be a uniting factor. Leaders cannot eliminate emotion from the decision making process, but we can enhance credibility and concurrence by ensuring that decisions are supported by wise judgment and reliable data instead of intuition or tradition. Some of the concepts discussed during the course that can help to accomplish this include: dual process thought as opposed to opaque decision processes; overcoming constraints of risk perception, the framing effect, emotional carryover, sunk cost and implicit bias; and finding the proper balance between individual and group decision making.

As a public administrator and policy maker, I will use the abundance of tools acquired at the Harvard Kennedy School to help build a culture of decision making that maximizes good and minimizes harm. These tools can be applied to both our organizational decision making processes as well as community decision making processes. Just a few of the many situations in which I plan to use the techniques learned in the program include: the hiring and performance appraisal processes; cross-department meetings and interactions; labor and contract negotiations; community visioning; and crisis decision making. I highly recommend this program to anyone in a leadership role in their organization and appreciate CCMF’s efforts to make this learning opportunity more accessible through its scholarship program.

Click/tap here to learn more about CCMF’s Harvard Scholarship program.

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