9 Rules for Making Tough Calls

Every day leaders make tough calls, some of which will be unpopular. The leader needs the fortitude to go against the grain if that is required. This toughness can be found in many decision areas such as:

• Who are the right people to lead the organization?
• How do you discipline with fairness and compassion?
• Should we grow or shrink the organization?
• What size staff is necessary to support our business?
• When should we exit a business?
• How do we manage scarce resources – money, talent, equipment, etc.?

The list could go on, as there are hundreds of areas where leaders make tough calls. Great leaders don’t shy away from controversy; they realize it is why they are called leaders. The best ones make courageous decisions within a framework that guarantees the decisions are the best ones under the circumstances. A typical example of such a framework would look like the following list.   

A Framework for Making Tough Calls

1. Always operate from a set of values. Test every action and decision to determine consistency with the values and the vision.

2. Do an assessment laying out the facts.

3. Don’t operate in a vacuum. Get input from the people impacted, but do not let the will of the masses dictate the decision.

4. Develop a list of potential decisions, and test the validity and impact of each.

5. Assess support for the decision in advance, and do whatever possible to gain support if it will be unpopular.

6. Act swiftly and decisively, avoiding the “analysis paralysis” problem.

7. Communicate the decision and rationale with high energy, and listen carefully to the feedback.

8. Commit wholly to the decision, and don’t waffle if there is resistance. Admit ownership of the decision. Do not blame someone else.

9. Continually evaluate the impact, and have the courage to admit if it was a mistake.

This framework ensures progress toward the vision, while preserving the environment of trust, even if the decision is necessarily unpopular.

One Response to 9 Rules for Making Tough Calls

  1. Jamie Ross says:

    Good post Robert.
    There’s a saying that goes something like, “most people are ok if a decision doesn’t go their way, so long as they’ve had the chance to have their input properly heard”.

    I agree you should consider who the stakeholders are in the decision outcomes, get input from them (keeping timeliness in mined), and then map out how each are affected by your proposed decision.

    The most important point for me is to never ever try to disown the decision, say that you wish you didn’t have to make it, or blame it on the company. It’s your role, your decision, stand by it. If you know in yourself that you are doing the right and fair thing then this shouldn’t be a problem.

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