Leaders: Make the Tough Decision and Act on It

Making tough decisions and acting on them are among the most challenging responsibilities of leadership. Deciding often requires much wisdom. (See a great article by Betsy Winkler, who pulls tips and insights about making decisions from Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.)

Acting on the decision once you’ve made it may be even more difficult than deciding.

Consider the following two real-life examples:

Not giving difficult performance feedback.

A CEO let the poor performance of her CFO continue for five years before she finally addressed it. The consequences became more serious over time:

  • The CEO and others spent extra time and energy doing re-work, picking up the slack and being frustrated.
  • The cultural expectations across the organization about performance, communication and trust suffered because of the example being set at the top. Others in the organization avoided difficult conversations, following the cues of the leaders. The environment became overly political and lacked direct and clear communication.
  • Planning and execution of strategic initiatives and changes that were needed to grow the business were slowed largely because the CFO was not able to contribute at a strategic level. The organization wasn’t serving their clients and stakeholders as well as they could have.

When the CEO finally decided to remove the CFO from the role, she even had someone else deliver the message. Not exactly decisive or courageous leadership. I see examples like this all the time.

Thankfully, I also see examples like the following:

A mid-level manager makes a decisive career change.

Jennifer (not her real name) was in a corporate HR role where she had not been getting the affirmation and opportunities she wanted from current leadership in a company that was considering downsizing her department. Rather than risk waiting to be asked to leave a job she wasn’t enjoying, she decided to leave. She envisioned what she wanted her ideal next job to be, and she prepared to make the transition.

By the time she announced her resignation, she had done her homework on the logistics of starting her own business, consulted advisors to help her and her husband weigh the risks and rewards and lined up a coach and staff to help her get up and running.

Are you or someone you know avoiding moving forward on a tough decision?

Try these tips:

  • Remember the “why” – the reason(s) you’re doing this. And remind yourself of the consequences of avoiding or delaying your decision or action.
  • Remember who’s watching you. And the impact that your actions (or lack of action) will have on others who are directly and indirectly effected.
  • Apply the 80/20 rule. For those of us to tend to be perfectionists, remember that 80% right is often good enough to move ahead.
  • Ask for help. Consult someone you trust who can help you think through your decision thoughtfully and courageously and then support you in executing. If acting on your decision involves a difficult conversation, role-play with a trusted advisor. And commit to key people to a timeframe by which you’ll make and/or execute your decision.

Whether your tough decision involves having a difficult conversation, facing a fear or inadequacy or just doing something you don’t like, the toughest step is the first one. What’s your next step?

Image Credits

Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps leaders make tough decisions and act on them. You can reach him at jbaker@people-results.com or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.