Decisions, decisions

Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed when faced with tough choices

"In a minute there is time for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.”—T.S. Eliot

One of the most difficult tasks for any leader is decision-making, which can range from the mundane to anxiety-inducing. Most leaders have risen to their positions because of intellectual capabilities, so they are particularly adept at devising clever ways to delay or avoid decisions that cause them anxiety.

This is a problem, says Ron Carucci, co-founder and managing partner at Atlanta-based Navalent, an executive coaching firm. In the Harvard Business Review article “Leaders, stop avoiding hard decisions,” Carucci says leaders “concoct sophisticated justifications for putting off difficult decisions.” He cites three common ways leaders defer decisions that will negatively affect their teams:

  1. Trying to be considerate. It is normal to want to protect people’s feelings, but doing so to avoid making a hard decision will make people distrustful. Carucci provides an example of a CEO who had to make budget cuts but refrained from telling his staff in a timely manner, causing them more work and stress. When they found out he had known about the cuts for months, they became resentful. Carucci explains the leader “missed an opportunity to help his team build resilience in the face of a tough challenge.”
  2. Overreliance on data. Leaders generally don’t like to look stupid, and, as a result, many defer difficult decisions while they analyze more and more data. But Carucci says: “Taking action in the face of incomplete data is an executive’s job.” When a leader is drowning in data without coming to a tangible decision, he or she looks “more incompetent than had [he or she] made the best possible decision with limited data.”
  3. Wanting to be fair. It’s been drilled into leaders that playing favorites can result in backlash, so many leaders lean too far in the other direction and “falsely believe acknowledging differences in performance is the same as showing different levels of respect.” This then results in the inability to separate stronger performers from average ones and remove poor performers. Although giving the appearance of fairness, this approach is unfair to the best performers whose work accounts for a higher percentage of the company’s success. “Sometimes, hard decisions are unfair to some, but people need to know you are equitable in how you make them,” Carucci says.

It’s not easy being where the proverbial buck stops. But being a leader comes with responsibility to do the difficult things.

AMBIKA PUNIANI REID is editor of Professional Roofing and NRCA’s vice president of communications.


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