The bottom line job of a leader is to make decisions. Depending on the circumstances around which a person is leading, these decisions can be a matter of life and death. Think military or other high stakes jobs like logging (rated number one of the top ten deadliest jobs in a Forbes article in 2013).
I’d argue that making decisions quickly and absolutely is the most important skill of a leader. Notice I did not say making “right” decisions. I said making decisions. Leaders make questionable decisions all the time. What sets great leaders apart is they own and empower their decisions….and the consequences thereof.
A Brief Tale of Two Brothers
Two brothers were on a sailboat on the ocean. Both were competent seaman. During the night, they took four hour shifts at the helm so each had a chance to sleep.
One night while out at sea the brother who was asleep awakened at the sound of a loud foghorn. He knew they weren’t close to land. So the only other option of where this sound could have come from was another vessel. And it had to be very close judging by the volume of the scream of the horn.
He rushed to the deck and saw that he and his brother’s boat was on course to crash into a container ship head on. Yelling to his brother, he said, “Hard left! Hard left!”
The brother seemed to be frozen and staring at the container ship like a deer in the headlights. He yelled again, “Hard left! Hard left!” No movement whatsoever.
At this point there was only one thing to do. He rushed over to his brother, pushed him out of the way, grabbed the helm and made a hard left. This leader saved the day. And in this case that meant saving he and his brother’s lives.
This leader is my good friend Bill so I know it’s a true story, not an anecdote to make my point. Bill is in his seventies and has owned/operated, bought, sold or grown eight different companies in his career. The biggest one did over $300 Million in revenue per year.
Bill knows what it takes to lead in business and in life. He’s a practiced risk taker and decision maker. That’s what got him to hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue. Nothing else. Bill has no college degree and was called stupid while growing up as he failed the fourth and ninth grades.
Obviously Bill is not stupid. He grew up with a learning disability during a time when they had no idea what that even meant. The point is Bill learned the skills he needed to thrive. The ability to take risks, make decisions, and be responsible for the consequences. If he can do it, so can you.
What Gets in the Way of Making Decisions?
Leaders are action takers. They don’t wait around for the right decision because they know they’ll be waiting a long time. They don’t wait to feel comfortable because they know they’ll be waiting a long time. They don’t wait for the fear to go away because…..
There’s no such thing as the right decision. There’s only what works and what doesn’t work. Leaders know this even if solely on a subconscious level.
What gets in the way of making decisions is the need to be right, comfortable and sure. Bill’s brother wasn’t sure what to do so he did nothing.
What if he turned the helm too hard and capsized the boat? What if he chose to turn and couldn’t do it fast enough and they hit the container ship? What if he made the wrong decision and Bill got mad at him because he screwed up the boat?
Yup. Any of these scenarios could’ve occurred and they all could’ve been painful. What do you do if you’re faced with a decision that will result in something painful either way? Well, you still have to choose.
Which Pain Will You Choose?
I got off the phone with Nick, a client of mine, shortly before writing this article. The conversation we had inspired me to write this. Nick’s a leader. Always has been, always will be. He and his wife own and operate a financial services practice near Dallas, TX.
Nick’s been crushing it lately due largely to his very successful marketing. In the recent months he’s grown the business to where it earns a comfortable living for his family. He wants to grow and knows it will likely take his investing diversifying his marketing efforts.
This week NIck has been presented with an opportunity to host a radio show as another tactic to add to his strategic marketing plan. It’s something he’s had a goal of doing in the near future.
You guessed it. Nick needs to make a decision, and fast, or else he’ll lose the opportunity to a competitor. Not a life and death decision, but it’s certainly high stakes.
Here’s the deal. This is going to cost him $78,000 and a year of his life. He’s run the numbers and adding the radio show to his marketing plan will grow his business to a whole new level. IF….it actually works.
There’s pain on either side of the fence. If Nick chooses to go with the radio show, it’s going to cost a significant amount of money, he’ll likely have to hire several new people, and learn how to operate inside of a new set of circumstances. A more stressful cash flow scenario, the headaches of hiring, training and working with new employees, and the risk of not acquiring enough clients to make it worth the investment.
Conversely if Nick opts to not go with the radio show, he’s going to have to deal with the consequences of waiting until later to do it. He’ll be wondering how it would’ve went had he chose to do it. What if it worked? What if he can’t get the same opportunity next year?
Nick needs to make this decision by Tuesday, and no matter what he chooses, it’s going to be painful. The clock is ticking and he’s taking action by calling his team of advisors and supporters to help him through the process. Ultimately he knows he’s the only one qualified to actually choose.
It was so much fun talking to him about it. It was like watching a good thriller. I could feel the adrenaline rush as if it were me in his shoes. I’ve been there many times. And I’ve made decisions that worked and those that didn’t.
Now you get to choose. Who will you be and what will you do when faced with tough decisions? Will you be and do whatever it takes? Will you wait for someone else to choose for you? You’ll see. And so will those around you.