The Eagle Blog

Ten Tips for Leaders Making Tough Decisions

Douglas McArthur quote about leadershipAny Leader needs to make tough decisions. CEOs tend to have the unique additional challenge of making such decisions as the final decision maker. It is a subtle, yet sometimes daunting, difference.

At any other level within an organization there is someone else to challenge/stop/change or just agree with the tough calls. The buck stops with the CEO which means she/he is ultimately responsible for all company decisions.

Experienced CEOs will generally get the calls right and know that, because they are not infallible, there will sometimes be mistakes. He/she knows that ultimately making a decision is always better than a “no decision” and most mistakes can be fixed if necessary.

Some leaders run into trouble, by making poor decisions, or by avoiding making decisions. In my experience there are a number of reasons for this:

  • They are unwilling to get/listen to the right input before making a decision.
  • They think they have all the answers themselves.
  • They become paralyzed by the amount of input to the situation requiring a decision.
  • They lack confidence in their ability to make the right call.
  • They are worried about upsetting some people with their decision.

If the leader having a problem is not the CEO, then the problem can be solved quickly by a decision made by a more senior executive.

If the leader having a problem is the CEO, the impact on the organization is significant. CEOs MUST be willing to make tough calls, and be seen to act on decisions. The majority of those decisions should be sound decisions. This builds confidence and trust, which in turn creates a healthy leadership team.

“Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.” General George Patton

Here are some thoughts on my experiences as a CEO making tough calls.

  1. Get all of the input that you need, from whatever source. NOT just from your executive team.
  2. Truly listen. Some leaders “listen to talk”, you must “listen to understand”.
  3. Understand that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
  4. Be sensitive to those who will not like your decision.
  5. When it is a big decision, give yourself enough time, but don’t go beyond the “right amount of time”. If you have all the facts, and nothing is going to change, it is time to make your call.
  6. Make sure you are making a business decision and not an emotional decision.
  7. When the decision is complex I like to get outside of the office to think it through. My ideal is to get on my motorbike and let everything else go, it is amazing how often this brings clarity!
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Listen before and explain after!
  9. Some people will need more time to understand and absorb your decision, if possible take the time to explain it to them.
  10. Know your own weaknesses, and get the right advisors to help you with those. I am not a detail guy, but I have detail people I trust implicitly.

“Inability to make decisions is one of the principal reasons executives fail. Deficiency in decision-making ranks much higher than lack of specific knowledge or technical know-how as an indicator of leadership failure.” John C. Maxwell

Tough decisions will define you as a leader, do not shy away from them!


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