Do I go to the gym or do I bank the extra sleep? Caf or decaf? Take the train or drive? Go out or eat in? We make decisions—consciously and unconsciously—all day, every day. As a business leader, making decisions can be tough, particularly when you know that your choices will affect board members and company leaders, employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
It’s no wonder that we’re sometimes frozen into inaction—the process can be crippling.
Growing up, one of my favorite idioms wielded by my family and friends in the Midwest was “fish or cut bait.” As you can maybe imagine, this phrase more or less means, do it or don’t but act now.
Thinking about this phrase now, I believe it captures a much-needed mindset within leadership. A quick decision based in solid reasoning and intuition can save money, stress, and energy. Jack Welch calls wishy-washy bosses who procrastinate on decisions “last-one-out-the-door” bosses. These types can be brilliant leaders in many ways, but if you’re unable to make tough calls, you’ll never quite reach your potential—and neither will your company.
But great leaders aren’t just swift decision makers—they also have a process they follow before pulling the trigger. The more a leader follows this protocol, the faster and easier the process will become over time. Here are the steps I like to follow:
The long-standing women’s gymnastics coach for Team USA, Marta Karolyi, is one of the world’s terrific decision makers, particularly when the stakes are high. This year, she slotted Gabby Douglas, the London 2012 women’s gymnastics individual all-around champion, on Team USA again, despite the fact that Gabby finished seventh in the trials and only five athletes could attend this year’s games. Were there people who were hurt and upset by the decision? I can think of a few. But she made the call that her gut told her to—to field the returning champion, a veteran with a phenomenal bar routine and a proven track record of delivering under pressure. And by now we all know the result: another Olympic Gold for the team.
The fact is, there is no perfect formula for making tough calls. You can do what you can to make the process easier, but in all likelihood your heart will still skip a beat when you send that e-mail or make that phone call. But over time you can become accustomed, if not immune, to the pressure of making big decisions.