Leadership is about Decision-Making

The capacity to make good decisions is surely as crucial as anything that a leader does.   Indeed, some would say that this is leadership:  making decisions, and that good leadership is evident in quality choices or actions.   The organization is only as effective and successful as the choices or decisions of those in leadership.  Good decisions means the success or the organization.  It is as simple as that. 

No one is perfect:   we will make decisions or judgment calls where we will know that what we have chosen to do was not the right call, or that the person we hired for a position was not the right person for the job — and we see it a month or two or three into the job.   But as a rule, effective leadership will consistently get it right:  that will master the art of making the right decision and acting on that decision with grace, courage and humility.   They will determine – discern – what needs to be done.  And they will do it.   

The Harvard Business Review for October 2017 has an essay by Noel M. Tichey that makes the following observation:  that most if not all the judgment calls of a leader are of three kinds:   people, strategy or crisis. 

Effective leaders hire well:  they know how to recruit effectively, how to discern character, competency and mission fit.  They will not always get it right, but as a rule, they will consistently hire the right people for the job.   And they will have the courage to let someone go when they do not have the right fit or are no longer effective.  If a leader consistently shows poor judgment in the hiring, they are not fit for the job.    

Effective leaders choose the right course of action:  in consultation, no doubt, but when the decision rests on their desk, they will consistently invest resources, both in terms of time and finances, in a way that consistently means that they are doing what needs to be done for the organization.    Again, no one is perfect; mistakes will be made.   But good leadership is consistently evident in the capacity to get it right most of the time. 

And, effective leaders are a non-anxious presence in a crisis:  they know a crisis when they see it; they know that some kind of response is needed.  And they act, with clarity and in a way that is consistent with the core values of the institution. 

Recognize this.   Most decisions are not “black and white.”  Almost all decisions require that a judgment call needs to be made – in the fact of competing priorities, competing values and diverse constituency expectations.   So, you will not be able to please everyone every time.   Don’t try; doing so will always muddy the waters.   Sure, take account of those who will not be happy with the decision you might be making, but your lack of decisiveness will be a bane to the organization.  If it is fear that is keeping you from acting, then name it:  and step back and ask . . .”what am I afraid of?”  what is keeping me from making the decision that needs to be made. 

Three more things.  First, consult, consult consult.  Not with everyone; but yes, with each of those who have a right to speak into the process.   Recognize the limits of your own wisdom and vision – the limits of your own capacity to read a situation or the strengths or limits of a potential hire or decision.   Second, learn from mistakes.   You will make them; well then, learn from them.  And third, act.   Decisions without action are merely an exercise in futility.  If you are stalling through indecision or having decided are still not acting, take a hard look and determine what it is that is causing you to procrastinate.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.