Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thinking Through the Really Tough Decisions

Leaders make hard decisions all the time. We have to. It comes with the territory. But I venture to say that most leaders wrestle with thinking through the really tough decisions.

Whether in life, work or leadership, really tough decisions are tough for a reason. They are emotionally charged. That is, they are made up of both facts to be considered and emotions to be felt. Neglect either and the after-decision reality will probably be less than satisfying.

Neglect the facts and you get an emotional problem to deal with later. Facts are facts and they don't and won't change. A decision that doesn't deal with things as they are but neglects them, oversteps them or disregards them will result in less than satisfying results. Much of the original pain or problem will still exist because there was a far larger emotional component to it than physical. And that emotional magma will eventually rise to the surface ... and you will have to deal with it head on.

Neglect the feelings and you get a feeling-fueled factual problem to deal with later. It may come in the form of resistance, criticism, rebellion or sabotage. Whatever form it takes, however overt or subtle, passive or active, there will be a real problem to deal with. Emotions may be the fuel but real physical problems will be the result.

The Options for Tough Decision Making

  1. Abdicate Responsibility. Pretend there is no problem and therefore no decision to be made.This is the stick your head in the sand routine. Hope it will go away.

  2. Act without regard to the facts. Let emotions run rampant. Fail to think the situation through. Fail to isolate fact from emotional presumption and proceed based on how you feel at the moment. This is the illogical routine.

  3. Act without regard to feelings. Stuff your feelings way down deep. Dig in and neglect to acknowledge anyone else's feelings. Look only at the facts and make a calculated decision. (Problem is that none of us are unbiased. We try to be but we aren't. We give greater weight to our feelings about the situation and this causes stress, judgment and misfires.) This is the insensitive routine.

  4. Weigh the facts and the feelings, then proceed. Always attempt to move forward based on truth but being sensitive to both your feelings and those of others. As best you can, attempt to discover and address the source of the underlying emotions that appear so strong. This is the makes-sense leadership routine.

Will you always be right? No. But you will be able to rest in the knowledge that you did all you could to be objective, fair and balanced.

Like so many other occasions, this is a time for writing or recording both the facts and the feelings. If you can accurately articulate them, have them in front of you and intentionally talk your way through them, you will up your chances of making the best decision possible.

In the course of our leadership and executive coaching, clients are often facing just these very types of decisions. This is another occasion when the benefit of a personal coach is obvious.

Sometimes you can be too close to a situation to think objectively. Because it is an emotionally charged situation you entertain strong feelings. The coach helps sift the emotional content from the factual and examine each. The discussion more often than not results in new insight and a stronger case to go in a particular direction.

Does this mean that you are a weak leader who requires someone else's help to make decisions? Not at all. You make lots of decisions every day, some of them more challenging than others. It does mean you are a smart leader who recognizes that every so often a problem comes up that is loaded with emotional content and that using an objective sounding board will enable you to follow a superior decision making model that will increase the possibilities for better results. That's being a wise leader.

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