The ability to make tough decisions when needed is crucial in leadership. It is not always easy to make unpopular decisions and leadership can feel like a lonely job. However, it is a leader’s responsibility to make decisions, especially the tough ones.
Experience the problem first-hand
Whenever possible the leader must gather the information required to make a decision himself. Do not rely on second-hand information. Get out of the office and down on the ground to experience the problem personally and physically. Other people’s problems are easier to neglect than your own. By gaining first-hand knowledge of the problem you display the willingness to lead by example and when you know the problem from your own experience, you force yourself to take action.
Your co-workers’ problem suddenly becomes yours, which creates a sense of urgency.
What is the alternative?
Sketch the problem and the options. I use a blank sheet in my notebook and draw a mind map:
- What is the problem?
- What are the different solutions and their effects?
The purpose is to empty your brain for all options possible. Your own and options you might have had time to discuss with others.
I like to think of it as a creative process. My preferred tools are analouge. The pen and paper. The tools themselves are not important. Propelling yourself to think is.
You cannot “not decide”
One option is not to decide. However, one basic condition of leadership is that you cannot “not decide”. Problems do not disappear by themselves and it is the leader’s task to decide how to deal with them.
However, sometimes the decision can a negative one.
Your decision may be that laissez faire leadership will propel your co-workers to take action themselves.
Your decision may be that there are good grounds for postponing a final decision.
Even making the decision not to decide is a decision.
All these are perfectly valid choices provided they are deliberate and thought-out. As leader you have to make the choice.
Ethical decision making
Run your options through the ethical decision-making process. Try to find answers to three questions:
- Is it legal?
- Is it proportional?
- Does it feel right?
If the method fails to produce a simple answer, try the opposite: What if I decide to do nothing or maybe even neglect the problem? Often that option fails on question two and three.
Get it done
Whenever I have made a decision I try to carry it out immediately. Or at the very least take some action towards carrying it out. Don’t wait. Exploit the momentum of having made the decision to take action.
If you are the leader you are responsible
A Danish proverb on leadership states:
“it is cold at the top.”
Making tough decisions can be a lonely task. But somebody has to lead. Bear in mind that decisions you make are for the benefit of the team or organization. That is not always the same as the benefit for the individual.
If you are the leader you are responsible. Your team expect that.