4 Steps to Better Decision Making


“Good leadership is not a popularity contest” – John C. Maxwell


When it comes to leaders who must make difficult decisions, I think of President Harry Truman and his decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan during world war II in 1945. Four years earlier the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941), this brought the United States into World War II. The attack destroyed numerous planes and damaged all eight U.S. Navy battleships sinking four of them. The attack also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer. The loss of life was high.


After the death President Roosevelt, it became President Truman’s responsibility to decide how to bring the war to an end. Truman saw that by 1945, America was weary of fighting. He was faced with the possibility of invading Japan (which could easily cost more than one million lives or use the atomic bomb. The President saw the use of the bomb as the best option. The Japanese officially surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945. World War II was the bloodiest war in history. We can always second Truman’s decision, but the toll of that war was an estimated 60 to 80 million casualties worldwide. On average, America was losing 220 military personnel per day and nearly 6,600 per month. Truman knew that leadership is not for the faint of heart.


“It’s not personal. It’s strictly business.” – Michael Corleone


Some executive decisions are very difficult and will face sharp criticism. As difficult as some decisions are, they must come from an understanding that leading well is more important than being popular. President Truman knew whatever he decided on would cost the lives of many, his decision had to be for the greater good of humanity.


As leaders, we face many unpopular decisions that must be made.


  • With whom should I discuss the options of an important decision?

  • Should I correct, inquire or allow an employee to work it out on their own?

  • Should I hire someone who was recently fired from their last position?

  • Should I release a member of my leadership team?

  • Should I inform another leader about a problem on their executive team?

  • How much time do I have to make this decision?

“Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity” – Colin Powell


Our success rests on how well we handle difficult decisions. We cannot avoid the tough decisions and be successful. Do you put off difficult decisions and try to avoid uncomfortable conversations? How do you mentally prepare for decisions you would rather avoid? Good leaders summon the courage to do and say what others choose not to. Indecision has destroyed many promising careers.


“Don’t fall victim to what I call the “ready-aim-aim-aim-aim syndrome.” You must be willing to fire.” – T. Boone Pickens


John C. Maxwell suggests using a worksheet to help identify the decisions that must be made. Try using this four-step process to navigate the tough decisions.


Step 1: Take Responsibility. Procrastination kills leadership effectiveness today and leadership potential tomorrow. List three decisions you’ve been putting off: 1. 2. 3.


Step 2: Prepare Yourself. Are you feeling anxious about those looming choices? Let’s do some research to boost your decision-making confidence.

Pick one of the above problems. List the information you need to move forward and the experts and colleagues who can offer insight. 1. Info Needed: 2. People Needed:


Step 3: Reflect. Once you’ve completed the first two steps, consider where that knowledge takes you. What insights did you gain? Did you discover things below the surface? List Your Realizations: 1. 2. 3.


Step 4: Determine Your Action Plan What do you need to do before you take action? Should you meet with key influencers? Write a step-by-step strategy? Consult with an expert? List your next moves and give yourself a deadline to make them. 1. Action: 2. Deadline:


Go through that four-step process, and I promise that decision-making will go from overwhelming to attainable.


Some strategies to make the process easier are:.


Act Immediately. Although it is your responsibility to deliberate options and make educated decisions, you’ll also encounter situations in which you must think on your feet. Great leaders act with limited information. Don’t hedge! Take action using your knowledge and instincts to guide you.


Be Confident. Don’t waste time and energy second-guessing yourself. Someone once told me that I have no rearview mirror. I believe that’s true: I have little desire to look backward. I make decisions and move on. You should, too.


Think Payoff. Your motivation to act comes from the benefits you envision. Is your team morale likely to improve? Will productivity increase? Will you see an impact on the bottom line? Focus on those positives. It’s like going to the dentist—you may not look forward to the process, but the outcome is highly beneficial.


*** This article was authored by John Picarello, Chief Leadership Officer at Lions Pride Leadership Co.***

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