Ready, aim, fire. Leaders need all three of those actions in their portfolio. A lot of Ready is knowing and preparing yourself for action, and a lot of Aiming is in planning and visioning. This blog is about Firing—not people, but firing on actions. Making the call to get something going. Leaders display a bias for taking action; it’s one of the differentiators between leaders and followers.
Many people hem and haw their way through life, never fully committing to a course of action. They can recite the problem they are experiencing over and over again. That leaves them paralyzed and never fully living! However, if you decide or get promoted to leadership, you can’t do that. People are now counting on you to find a solution and make the decision so they can implement it.
It’s easy to see why many leaders put off decision-making. I mean, it could fail, and they’d be responsible! Or the options seem equally good or equally bad, and they don’t want to regret forsaking one of the courses of action. Or they are all about decisions by committee, and, while collaboration is great, no one takes full responsibility–and conversations spiral without making something happen.
To get better at this leadership skill, you have to become a good “noticer.” You have to get close to the action so that you have context for the decision that needs your buy-in. You have to close to the people to whom this decision will affect, to hear the best wisdom on the situation. You have to stay aware of the industry trends and obstacles. And, you have to have confidants who are like mentors to you, helping you process your decisions and asking you the tough questions. All this proximity will develop your intuition for making a good call.
You also need to quiet your brain to think through which decision is best for the company and its constituents. Get away from the problem and the business to somewhere in solitude to weigh your options. Unless you are in emergency management mode, most decisions are not urgent, and you can hit the pause button for a while to think. If someone is in your face pushing you to decide, that pressure will most likely result in an emotionally-based decision that you will regret later.
Once you have done some thinking on the problem, you ask yourself who else needs to be in the room to solve this problem? Solomon said, “In a multitude of counselors, there is safety.” We are only as good as our inner circle—so, choose them well. Under the right circumstances, with sufficient diversity and independence of thought, groups consistently make better decisions than individual leaders.
Once gathered, put all the cards on the table and simplify the problem into one statement so that everyone is clear what needs to be decided. Colin Powell said, “Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”
Then it’s good to have some filter questions for making decisions in your business. Here are some you can modify to be more deliberative:
- What do my wise mentors/personal board of directors say? Who else has faced this decision?
- What does my experience say?
- Does this negatively impact the company vision or will it benefit the company vision?
- Am I excited about this? Or the opposite: pit in my stomach?
- Is this a temporary solution or long-term?
- Is this extravagance or excellence?
- How does this decision fit with our values and vision? Congruence/dissonance?
- How will this impact the schedule of what’s already on our plate?
- Do we have the resources available that will be needed?
To make sure his group didn’t become “Yes, Men” to his leadership, Winston Churchill would appoint a contrarian in every key meeting—someone who would argue against any decision they were about to make. You don’t have to go that far, but do create an atmosphere of candor, where it’s safe for people to share differing points of view and not be condemned for it.
You will never get 100% of information necessary to make the perfect decision. So, even with 80% of the information, just make the call. If you start over-thinking it, you will stall—and that stalls the whole organization. Move through the repercussions of the decision and adjust as necessary.
When in doubt, always make the decision that aligns with your business values. It’s defensible to everyone inside the organization, and it helps you sleep at night. You all have committed to living the values—so, it makes sense to decide based on those values. (If you have not taken the time to establish business values, this should be a top priority this year with your team.)
Once you have developed your leadership team to a place where you implicitly trust their judgment, you can start delegating some decisions, driving them to the lowest level in your company. Only the most difficult ones then trickle up to you for your tough call to make (ah, yes, the joy of leadership). Transformational leaders are participative in decision-making, and empowering leaders trust their team to make good decisions without them.
Effective leaders are decisive because they don’t want to become the bottleneck on progress. Let me help you develop your leadership team. I will customize the experience of leadership development to your needs. And everyone in your organization will benefit when the leaders get even better! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org