From the cockpit of a Marine helicopter landing at night on a pitching and rolling deck of a carrier, to the seeming quiet of a boardroom subtly coaxing a new leader towards a preferred course of action, it has become increasingly clear to me how difficult it is for leaders to make tough decisions. After some soul searching and tapping into the experience of leaders I admire and respect, I have identified some key things that simply helped me get better at it. As a CEO, and former U.S. Marine Corps Officer and pilot, I’ve worked with military leaders, civilian executives, and my own employees and Marines to help guide them through the challenging and sometimes even perilous waters of tough decision making. As pilots we used to say emergency procedures were written in the blood of those that went before. I share my lessons learned in that same spirit.
Too often leaders abandon their responsibility and choose not to act on a tough decision because they don’t want to be saddled with either the decision or the outcome. They act in their own interest rather than tackling the more difficult task of doing what’s right for the organization. Nothing relieves the leader of the responsibility to make difficult decisions. Good leaders will recognize this despite all its associated challenges; they have the responsibility and obligation to exercise their authority judiciously and decisively and to make the tough calls.
Based on extensive research and experience, Jacob More points out in his course Decision Making Under Stress that in stressful times (like making tough calls) we are not at our best when it comes to making decisions. The level of stress that we experience is obviously relative to influencing factors like our personality, experiences, and circumstances. Mr. More demonstrates the importance of applying definitive action steps in a well thought out plan to reduce Recovery Time (that period of time between the onset of anxiety and the point at which we are back to a relatively normal state). Understanding the stress of making difficult decisions and having a plan to deal with it changes everything. My experience over the past 40 years has shown me that introducing logic and rationale to these situations in the form of a plan not only helps reduce my recovery time, but also improves the decisions and the comfort level and frequency at which I am willing to make them.
Difficulty making tough calls is a mindset and cultural phenomenon common to most organizations. Whether you are face to face, or the increasingly demanding space of virtual leadership here are three perspectives to help you devise a plan for dealing with difficult decisions: Things to Accept, Things to Consider, and Things to Do.
Things To Accept
Things To Consider
Things To Do
Although all of these are relevant regardless of the circumstances, it’s worth addressing an additional consideration when leading and making decisions in today’s virtual environment. The potentially impersonal nature of virtual distancing may embolden some to make tough calls more comfortably, and feel like the virtual environment is actually helping them get better at it. We cannot let that virtual separation and emboldened spirit make us callous or cavalier, particularly when difficult decisions affect people. Virtual leadership requires recognizing the difference between making the tough call because it’s a responsibility, and being a “telephone tough guy” just because the circumstances seem to permit it. Let us never lose sight of the personal impact our decisions can have, especially when virtually distanced.
In short, be decisive, be committed, and act…make the tough call! Own it and be confident in it once you’ve made it. Don’t be afraid to stand your ground and make your case. Those decisions may be challenged, sometimes you will even make the wrong decision, but don’t let that dissuade you from the things you need to accept, consider, and ultimately do in order to make tough calls when required.