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The Courage to Decide

by John Gronski

There is a story about a young MBA student who had an opportunity to interview a seasoned CEO of a Fortune 100 company. During one point in the interview the conversation went like this:

Student: What is the secret to your success?

CEO: Two words. Good decisions.

Student: How do you make good decisions?

CEO: One word. Experience.

Student: How do you gain that experience.

CEO: Two words. Bad decisions.

 Bad Decisions Do Happen

The point of this story is that even the most knowledgeable leader will sometimes make bad decisions. But still, leaders must make decisions. When leaders waffle and fail to decide they cause confusion, frustration, and uncertainty in an organization.

This is not to say leaders must jump into the breach and shoot from the hip in all cases. Sometimes leaders must display tactical patience and let the situation develop to gain more information. However, abdicating responsibility when it comes to decision-making is unsatisfactory.

It Takes Courage

Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001 said he found that many mid-level managers at GE struggled with having the courage to make decisions. They feared failure.

Harry Truman said the idea was for a leader to make the right decision, but this was less important than making some decision. He went on to say leaders must make decisions if they are going to get anywhere, and those leaders who can’t make decisions are the ones who cause all the trouble. The worst possible outcome did not result from a bad decision. It resulted from the failure to decide.

 Decision-making is a Process

The military teaches a classic decision-making process similar to what is taught in business school.

Analyze the problem

Develop courses of action

Analyze each course of action

Compare course of action in terms of advantages and disadvantages

Make a decision.

Seek Out Recommendations

The leader does not need to be the smartest guy in the room. Rely on the experience of others.

While going through the decision-making process it is a good practice to take recommendations from others on the team and one should do this without regard for rank, status, or perceived experience. Sometimes it is the newest and youngest person on the team who might have a good recommendation based on other experiences they have gained before joining the team.

Be Prepared to Adjust

When leaders make decisions, it should not be like throwing a sack of potatoes over the wall and then walking away. Leaders must stay engaged after deciding and if more information becomes available or if the situation does not go as planned, leaders must be prepared to pivot and adjust. There is no need to sail a boat into a lighthouse just because you did not know it was there when you first mapped out your route.

Earn Your Pay

If decision-making were easy everyone would want to be a leader.  Leaders earn their pay by having the guts to make tough decisions, especially when they have imperfect information, And by the way, a leader will never have perfect information or all of the information desired before having to make a decision.

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