“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” –Theodore Roosevelt
Making tough decisions is difficult, especially for leaders whose decisions affect their businesses and their team's livelihoods. But it is your responsibility as a leader to make those difficult decisions. It’s why you get paid the big bucks.
Leadership is a mentally and emotionally demanding role, and you need to juggle many expectations–to inspire your team, push for business growth, and make the best possible choice as the situation requires. While there are no absolutes in decision-making, there are some strategies you can use to make it easier.
One of the reasons why we find it hard to make tough calls is because we know we are responsible for the outcomes of our choices. No matter who made the mistake up the chain, the leader is responsible for the results of their team.
But putting off making the decision causes more harm than making “wrong” ones. And the longer you delay difficult decisions, the more complicated they become.
In a 10-year study done by Harvard Business, 57% of 2,700 leaders say making decisions is harder and more complicated than they expected. There are three main rationalizations that leaders use as an excuse to put off making tough calls.
These are excuses leaders make to avoid becoming the bearer of bad news, or because they are afraid of looking stupid or being accused of playing favorites.
However, it should be seen as an opportunity to teach your team resiliency, how to be creative in the face of adversity, take calculated risks and learn from mistakes, and promote a healthy sense of competition and cooperation within the team.
There are many variables at play in decision-making. And for business leaders, difficult decisions often involve people, money, and risk. There’s often pressure to make the right call simply because the stakes are high. However, there are some things you can do to help the process just a tad bit simpler.
The devil is in the details, so they say. While you can’t expect to get all the data every time you need to make a tough choice, you need to make the best with what you can gather. The more information you have, the clearer the picture you can get and the more confident you will feel about the decision you make.
It also allows you to plan out contingencies in case problems arise, giving you and your team some room to make adjustments.
Tap into the knowledge and experience of your team. Sometimes they can offer insights and expertise you do not possess or consider. It could also be a good idea to draw inspiration from the outside—from competitors, peers, and even the unlikeliest places.
Making informed decisions comes from thorough research. Information is a crucial part of any decision-making process.
This might sound counterintuitive, but it is human nature to feel overwhelmed when they have too many options to choose from, causing decision paralysis.
Maybe you’re worried about the cost of raw materials needed to make your new product, or you’re trying to decide on a new marketing strategy because the current one isn’t working. You might have a lot of ideas and options to choose from, and find yourself looking for more, for better options.
It is good to have options, but try to trim them down as much as possible. Having too many choices often leads to a delay in decision-making and, often, it exhausts you to the point of burnout. You also need to leave some energy for you to execute the decision you’ve made.
Sometimes leaders make the mistake of taking on everything by themselves. Remember that the more decisions you make in a given period of time, the lower the quality of the decisions you’re making. That’s decision fatigue.
Delegate some of the decision-making to capable members of your team. You hired them for their expertise. A good leader knows when to utilize that expertise. Just don’t push off the hard decisions to your team that you should be making on your own.
Give yourself enough time to make a decision, but set a time limit for yourself. If you don’t, you’ll be more tempted to put off making the call.
If you give yourself a week to do a task, it will take you a week to accomplish it. If you give yourself a day, you will be able to finish it within the day.
Setting a deadline gives you a goal and helps you focus. It also gives you less time to overthink your choices. Plus, the less time it takes for you to decide, the more time your team will have to execute the decision. And should any problems pop up, they also have wiggle room to deal with them.
The pressure of meeting everyone’s expectations and the fear of offending people or making the wrong choices are all normal parts of being a leader. More so, those thoughts often paralyze us. By stepping back and removing yourself from the equation, you allow yourself to make more objective decisions.
You can’t see the bigger picture if you are in the frame.
Imagine that it isn’t your company but a friend who is having the problem. What advice would you give them? When the stakes are high for you, it is difficult to make sound, rational choices. But if the stakes are lowered, it is easier to see things you otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.
Numbers don’t lie, and they are simpler to evaluate. It is hard to completely remove all emotions when making hard decisions. By quantifying your options, it is easier to at least step back from feelings.
Sometimes decisions are hard because they would hurt a lot in the short-term, but are beneficial in the long run. Other times, the decision you made is the “wrong” one for now, but it might produce “right” results in three or five years, or even in ten years.
There are times when a “wrong” decision isn’t wrong, the timing is just not right yet. Instead of beating yourself up over bad decisions, take the time to re-evaluate the results and come up with new strategies to improve them. Don’t think of it as a bad investment or a waste; use it as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and a challenge to get creative on how to use the setback to your advantage.
There are no absolute “right” or “wrong” decisions. There are careless decisions and informed decisions. It is these careless decisions that hurt businesses the most.
There are also difficult choices to make and the repercussions of choosing them. What you do with the results moving forward is what makes a difference. The important thing is to learn how to handle tough situations and decide on action plans you and your team can take.
And don’t procrastinate—the longer you delay facing the problem, the more complicated it gets. As Mike Scioscia once told me, “...the threat isn’t having to regroup; the threat is having to regret.”