How Leaders Make Difficult Decisions

One of the key traits of any business leader is the ability to make smart decisions and stick with them. While some decisions are relatively easy to make, others can mean the difference between success and failure or profit and loss. Then, once you make your decision, you have to stand by it and sometimes justify it if it’s not popular.

For example, a decision to enter into a merger agreement with another business entity can sometimes have a profound impact on company culture or lead to changes in familiar work styles or processes. This actually occurs all the time in the corporate world. If employees are resistant to change, you might need to invest considerable time and even resources to explain how it affects them. and even retrain them to work within a new system.

Here are a few things business leaders need to do when faced with a difficult decision.

Consider the possible/likely outcomes

Think about everyone who will be impacted by your decision and how it will affect the company. Also, consider how necessary the decision is and what other options might exist. Assess what risks might be involved and how your decision might affect company finances. As you look down the road, ask yourself how things are likely to be different or better as a result of what you decide, and what you might have to do to “sell” your decision to various stakeholders, including management, employees, board members, customers, and others.

Weigh the options

You’ve heard this a million times before, but it works. Get out a sheet of paper and draw a line down the center. Write the pros related to your impending decision on the left side and the cons on the right. Take the time to list all possible benefits and any liabilities. Sometimes when you see the information laid out in front of you in this way it helps you to thoughtfully consider all the ramifications in a thoughtful and thorough manner.

Talk with people you trust

Sit down with your senior management team and ask them to help you. Talk with them about the pros and cons, and discuss each in depth to ensure that you’re covering all the possibilities. Call your mentor, if you have one. Seek the advice of people who have been in similar situations and ask them how they dealt with them. While the decision is ultimately yours, it helps greatly to seek counsel and wisdom from others who can provide intelligent and even empathetic input. Also: sometimes, selected employees can be good sounding boards. If there are people within your organization who you believe can offer sound feedback, don’t hesitate to float your situation with them. Especially if they’re not managers, they might be able to provide excellent input from their point of view.

Make your decision and be prepared to stick with it

You’ve thought about the decision at length, examined all the factors that relate to it. Now, make your decision. Once this has been accomplished, you’ll need to stick with it, explain your reasons when asked and do what you need to do to move forward.

If your decision was a necessary but potentially unpopular one — for example, one that might lead to layoffs, a company name change, an impact on your stakeholders, a change in leadership, changes in board makeup, or something else, you might need to publicly defend your decision and explain to one or even several constituencies the long-term benefits the company will enjoy as a result of your decision. Do it. This is one of the things that demonstrates strength in a leader: accountability.