Leadership Retreats Resources

Making Tough Decisions

January 22, 2018
Lead Organizations
Russ Sarratt

When a decision must be made and you know that a large portion of the people affected will disagree, you face a real dilemma. How do you choose wisely in what seems like a "lose-lose" situation for all those affected?

I live in Georgia where even the threat of inclement winter weather sends the whole state into a panic. The panic has been real this winter; our weather has been especially cold and snowy. Airport delays, backed-up traffic, and a lack of bread and milk become realities each time there is a forecast for snow.


One of the more serious questions that is faced during inclement winter weather is whether or not to cancel school. Teen drivers out in bad conditions for which they are not prepared and the difficulty of school buses safely traveling rural roads are very real considerations. Every time snow is forecast, parents wait on pins and needles as local school authorities determine whether school will convene. No matter their decision, there are parents and pundits who lament their determination. If the authorities cancel school, people complain about unnecessary overreacting. If the schools opt to continue with normal operations, people decry a lack of care for the children and their safety. It seems there is never a decision that is universally supported—it’s a no-win proposition.


If you have been leading for very long, my guess is that you have faced the same kind of no-win decision.


4 things to consider in making controversial decisions:


1. Do the right thing.

Always start here. Do not ever make a poor choice in a tough spot because you want to please others. This does not mean that you shouldn’t take into account how the decision will most likely be received; however, never let fear of negative reactions be the main factor in decision making.


2. Consider all the stakeholders.

Ask yourself these questions: Who are the people who will be affected by the decision you make? Who will be directly affected? Who will be the recipients of the “trickle-down effect” of what you choose? Is your decision going to cause hardship for anyone? Evaluate the effect on all possible stakeholders before choosing your course. The more proactive you are in these considerations, the less you will be caught off guard when negative feedback results.


3. Communicate the “why” behind your decision.

Once you have considered the consequences of your decision on all stakeholders, create a plan to communicate effectively to all who will be impacted. An important piece of that communication will be the “why” behind your decision. If you are of the mindset that, as the boss, it doesn’t matter whether your reports understand the “why” of your choices, you will find quickly such an approach will not get you very far.  By communicating the “why,” you create the greatest likelihood of a new decision or direction being accepted.


4. Recognize there will always be those who second guess you.

You can bet there will always be someone who will disagree with your decision. Rarely will any controversial decision please everyone. Do not let the fear of upsetting others keep you from making the right decision. 


It is your responsibility as the leader to make the tough decisions. Once the decision is made, go with it. You may need to adjust, rethink, or change directions in the future and that is okay. Several studies have shown the most effective leaders are decisive, even if future reevaluation is necessary.


Our teams need us to be decisive in order to lead them well.


What decisions are you now facing that require a resolute response? Assess, decide, communicate, and lead with courage!