Who Makes Those Tough Decisions? You!

 In I Wish I'd Known, Leadership

Each month in 2023, I feature one of my top-ten “Things I Wish I’d Known” when I first started as a manager and leader years ago. This article is my sixth: Who Makes Those Tough Decisions? You!

A wildly popular ice cream shop sits a couple of miles from my house. Everything is homemade and incredibly delicious!

My husband and I recently stopped in for a treat after dinner.

“Hmmmm, should I get the decadent chocolate or the double chocolate brownie chocolate chip ice cream?” I couldn’t decide. Both sounded so good!

I was so lost in my debate about which flavor to order, I didn’t realize I was holding up the line. My husband gently nudged me. How embarrassing. It was ice cream, for goodness’ sake!

I quickly made my choice: Decadent chocolate. (Yummm!)

Decisions in leadership aren’t as simple as selecting an ice cream flavor. And the stakes are typically far, far higher.

I’d always known leaders had to make important, difficult decisions. But when I started out, I didn’t realize just how hard some of those decisions would be.

I quickly discovered many decisions I would make as a leader would not be simple. The ramifications could affect many people and, in some cases, their families.

Such as letting an employee go.

Or implementing new company policies.

Or getting rid of an unprofitable piece of business.

Or — many years later — bringing employees back to the office at the tail end of a pandemic.

I also found not everyone was going to like every decision. And I had to be okay with that!

When it comes to effective leadership, trust and respect are more important than popularity. (A tough pill to swallow for someone who likes to be liked!)

Get Your Copy:

My free worksheet features this month’s theme, “YOU Make Those Tough Decisions.”

If you oversee programs and people, one of your biggest responsibilities will be making hard decisions. How can you prepare yourself to make them with relative ease and confidence?

The following Power Challenges can help you take your first steps.

Power Challenge 1: Sharpen Your Decision-Making Skills

Your staff look to you, the leader, to make good decisions. Especially in emergency or high-stakes situations.

Power Thought:

The buck really does stop with you.

Imagine being on a sinking ship (cliché, I know — but bear with me, it works). The captain is waffling. Debating different courses of action. Sending radio messages to other captains for an opinion poll on what they would do.

Ehhh, what?

Those actions may be fine under normal circumstances. But not when the ship is heading underwater! Every minute counts. Every decision matters.

You and your fellow passengers need someone in control. Someone who can get the ship to shore. Who can delegate whatever it takes to crew members. Who can calmly and clearly explain what’s happening.

When you’re at the helm of your company, that someone is you. Hopefully, you won’t be facing life-or-death situations like a sinking ship, but you can bet you’ll have to make high-stakes decisions. Often.

These tips can help you sharpen your decision-making skills:

1. Make decisions based on facts — not emotions.

You won’t always know if you’re making the right decision. At least not in the moment. But you can be prudent in your approach to making it.

Emotions can cloud your objectivity. If you’re feeling intense anger, sadness, frustration or even elation, hit the pause button before making any immediate decisions. Especially ones you might regret! Take a few minutes — or longer —to breathe and lower the internal temperature. Take the time you need.

2. Clearly and confidently communicate your decisions.

Your staff won’t always be able to connect the dots between a big announcement and its impact on the company.  Some people might panic and tune out as soon as they hear something concerning — such as a “change in strategic direction or a “new mandatory company policy.”

So, you have to create those connections for them.

And, while you can’t control how others feel about your decisions, you can do your best to avoid confusion and chaos.

It’s up to you to provide transparency, information and clarity. Sometimes we are too close to an issue and inadvertently fail to be clear.

Power Thought:

I wish I’d known that being at the top wasn’t going to be as glamorous as I’d thought!

For example, to make sure you deliver an announcement staff will understand, try the following:

  • Create a written draft of what you need to communicate.
  • Have someone else read it and point out any confusing or unclear points.
  • Read it out loud to yourself while putting yourself in your staff members’ shoes to think about how they will hear it.
  • Revise the draft so it makes sense from their perspective.
  • Then, deliver with confidence! (Practice your delivery, if needed.)

3. Again, you can’t make everyone happy.

Good decisions aren’t necessarily popular decisions. People won’t stand up and applaud your every decision. Not all people, anyway.

Power Thought:

Don’t expect 100% staff agreement on your leadership decisions. Instead, make the best decision you can, so you don’t have to fix it later.

Some difficult decisions are exactly right for the company. Yet some (or even most) employees won’t be happy about them. If you expect 100% consensus or approval for every decision you make, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

It’s not possible to please all the people all the time. Even if you’re the “best” leader! That’s just a leadership reality. Try adopting a mantra or saying for yourself — such as the one below — to keep you grounded in this reality.

Power Quote:

“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.” – Peter F. Drucker

4. Accept that not every decision will be the right one.

It’s important to stand by your decisions. Yes, even the unpopular ones.

However, it’s equally important to be able to listen. And to admit — and pivot from — a decision that wasn’t the right one.

Some decisions will be the best ones in the moment, but not over the longer haul. Some will simply be wrong.

If you are inclined to pivot from your prior decision, first check in with yourself regarding your motivation. Are you pivoting to:

  • Gain staff popularity?
  • Yield to pressure from peers, direct reports or staff?
  • Avoid staff discontent or criticism?
  • Avoid feeling your own emotional discomfort?

When you pivot, ensure it’s for the right reasons. As with all decisions, your new decision should be as sound and well-reasoned as possible. Not simply rash or reactive.

When you’ve made that not-so-great decision, recognize it, own it and do what’s needed to make it right. You don’t have to justify your reasons for making the original decision. Just move forward!

Related: The Blame-Free Way to Own Your Mistakes

Power Challenge 2: Build Respect Through Your Decisions

You might ask, what’s the alternative to making decisions skewed by a desire to be well-liked or gain popularity?

It’s respect.

When someone respects your decision, they perceive the intention, integrity and care that led to the decision. They still may not like the decision and may not even like you. However, they can see why the decision makes sense — and serves an important organizational need — even if they personally will face unwanted changes.

Power Question:

How does a leader’s habit of making rash decisions erode staff trust over time?

Staff members’ respect grows when they perceive consistency from one decision to the next. For example, your decisions:

  • Consistently reflect your company’s core values
  • Do not repeatedly favor one group or team over another
  • Are clearly connected to established company strategies or direction

Here are a few more ways you can cultivate respect:

Be accountable.

Do what you say you’re going to do! Make your decisions within the timeframe you’d previously shared. If you must delay making the decision, proactively tell those who need to know.

Gain trust.

Stand by your decisions — even the unpopular ones. (Would you trust a leader who caves when some people push back or disagree just because they don’t like the decision?)

Show your employees and managers you care and support them. Listen to their concerns, challenges or new ideas. When your decisions reflect aspects of their input, highlight those contributions.

Don’t be cryptic or vague when communicating a direction, directive or other decision. Your staff deserve as much honesty as you can realistically provide.

Lead, don’t manage.

Know when to take the reins and make decisions, and know when to delegate decision-making to others.

You might not find it spelled out in the job description, but the best leaders inspire and empower their employees to become the best versions of themselves they can be. Coach them in their own decision-making when appropriate.

Related: Lead, Don’t Manage

It’s All Part of the Job

Leadership isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s not always glamour and glory. I discovered these “behind-the-scenes” realities in my early years of leadership.

In your own role as a leader, you will have to make difficult decisions. Even when there is only partial support for you and your decisions, you’ll have to make peace with yourself and remain confident.

Is it hard sometimes? Definitely. Is it worth it? Absolutely, especially when you recognize the positive impact your leadership can have on your company, the people who work there, your customers and the wider community.

Be patient! Remember, respect is something you gain over time. You can’t demand or force anyone to like, trust or respect you just because you’re in a leadership role. You have to earn it.

So, embrace the learning curve! Trust you’re developing the right muscles to make those tough decisions. And it does get easier over time. I promise!

Need a speaker for a business event or training?

Carla inspires leaders and team members — and provides real-world tips to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today.


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