Making Tough Decisions – Essential to Effective Leadership

If you are at any level of administration within an organization, you are going to be making decisions where you have made the right call – essential for the organization – but, you have acted to do something that will not be popular.   Some may agree that you have done the right thing; but others will let you know that what you have done is quite simply wrong.   You were wrong to terminate or not renew the contract – and someone is no longer employed with the organization.   You were wrong in the decision you made to allocate the budget in a particular way.   As often as not these unpopular decisions fit these two categories:  personnel decisions or finance decisions. 

And if your greatest need is to be liked – if you crave affirmation and thanks and recognition and popularity – you will very simply not be able to do the right thing.  You will not be able to make the right call and stand by that decision in the face of the subtle or overt disappointment of some or even many of those you are called to serve as a leader. 

This is almost always in the background for a decision that is on the table:  who will be happy one way or the other?  And who will be disappointed or even angry at the decision that has been made?  What will the fall-out be?   Can we see perhaps what the ripple effects of this action item will be, especially for those who disagree with what has happened or what is being done? 

All such decisions are political – using “political” to describe any action item that impacts a diverse constituency.  And you cannot please all the people all the time.   And, in fact, there may be decisions when the majority of those you serve actually disagree with the decision that has been made.  And yet, it was the right decision.

But the main point is this:   we can only serve and lead well and make the tough decisions if we have an equanimity of spirit that is sustained by something other than our level of popularity.  We cannot lead if we have no political or social capital; and it is entirely the case that effective leaders will be deeply appreciated by those they serve and even have an affection for their leader or leaders.   But effective leaders have tender eyes but a thick skin [as my wife would put it]; they can make the difficult choices even if they disappoint . . . even if they now have to walk down the hall and face the blow back from those who think a huge mistake has been made. 

We can only do this if our ego needs are met and, very specifically, if they are met outside of the organization where we serve.  If our ego needs are all wrapped up in the organization and how we are affirmed and thanked by the organization, we will be incapable of making the hard calls.  Rather, our need to be loved and affirmed and recognized needs to be located elsewhere.   In my case, it is the love of my wife, my sons, and their wives, and my grandchildren.  And the love and affection of my closest friends.   And, of course, the presence of the Spirit, mediated to me as often as not through the Psalms.   But the main point is that it has to come from outside the organization; otherwise, we will always be stymied in our capacity to make a tough decision.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.