Making Tough Decisions

06 Jun

Leadership training, books and articles often make us feel like leading others is plain sailing.

The reality, as you well know, is very different.

Being in a position of leadership means making difficult decisions. For most people, it also means having to question and challenge decisions that were made by someone else or that come “from the top”.

This is particularly tricky if the organisation is continuously investing in a decision that was made some time ago but which is obviously not ripping any rewards. I’m not talking here about decisions which might not be beneficial in the short-term but have a positive effect in the long-term. I’m talking about Escalation of Commitment, continuing with a decision because we have already invested so much in it, we think we have no other choice.

One of the reasons why organisations find themselves pursuing a course of action that is doomed (to put it bluntly) is that the person who made that decision is still around. Usually someone in a top level position who will not back down. So, what do we do then? What happens if we see that, in order for our business to move forwards, we must challenge someone else’s strategy?

Neil Smith, in his blog post at the HBR blog this week, suggests including this “toxic decision” as part of a wider change initiative. Don’t single it out: somebody thought about it carefully at some point, invested energy and time in it. If they feel like they are under attack, they might just become defensive and lose perspective. What are the broad consequences of continuing to commit to the original decision? How might adapting it change the direction of the organisation? Of course, don’t just rely on your opinion. Consult left, right and centre in the organisation. In Neil Smith’s words:

Leadership is both about making tough decisions and about keeping good people on board, making their best efforts. In the interests of ensuring the latter, too many managers neglect the former.

Wide consultation will not only help you keep those good people on board but also make sure that you appreciate the full consequences of your “tough decision”. It might even at some point, flag up something you weren’t expecting which makes you change your mind.

Yes, we are allowed to get it wrong every once in a while.

Further reading:

For more on challenging an executive decision, read Neil Smith’s article Court Controversy, Remove a Barrier to Change.

Wondering whether you are picking the right fights? Have a look at the book “The Right Fight” by Ken Favaro and Saj-Nicole Jon.

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Posted by on June 6, 2012 in change, leadership


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