Northwind Pharmaceuticals

Courage and Tough Decisions


It is easy to say “No!” when there is a deeper “Yes!” burning inside. – Stephen Covey

I recently watched as an organization that I support made some tough personnel decisions. As I watched the process unfold, I was struck by the courage and will it takes to make such difficult decisions. In this case, several long time employees were being let go due to some ongoing leadership issues. Regardless of the rationale behind a decision to terminate an employee, it is not an easy decision to make or execute. Short of a direct physical confrontation, there are few actions that are more personal or more devastatingly confrontational.

As a business owner faced with daily decisions, this particular situation truly resonated. Whatever your decision process, at some point you have to execute on that decision. You have to make it happen. Whether it involves employees, customers, money, products, projects, or other commitments, it requires a step into the unknown. A leap of faith. Of course, I’m talking about major decisions; decisions that affect people or create risk. Tough decisions require courage.

In the quotation above, Stephen Covey was describing a principle-centered approach toward self-discipline in our decision making. In essence, it is easier to say “No!” to immediate distractions if they are not in alignment with the higher goal or purpose driving us. This applies acutely to difficult decisions. The deeper “Yes!” can be a source of courage and support when making the tough decisions because we understand our priorities and are following through on our principles.

That is all well and good from a philosophical perspective but tough decisions can still be challenging to execute. The five steps below are a path to building your courage and resolve in making and executing major decisions:

  1. Outline your options and a few of their potential ramifications. Often tough decisions are tough because there are options and there may be no clearly “right” answer. Make the process logical by listing the options and identifying some of the risks and opportunities associated with them. Oh, one other thing: beware of analysis paralysis. That is why I said “a few” – hit the high points and move to #2 below.
  2. Define your “Yes!” In the scenario above, the organization had a very clear sense of its guiding principles and priorities. Though it was not easy executing the decision, making it was relatively easy after they identified a persistent disconnect between those principles and the behaviors of the employees involved. Are you clear on your guiding principles?
  3. Seek outside input. It is easy to feel the lonely isolation of leadership when dealing with a difficult decision. That sense of isolation can lead to doubt or to over-confidence. Bring others into the process. Even if the buck stops at your desk, it is still a good idea to get outside input. No one can take the heat as you must, but involving others will help you find clarity one way or the other.
  4. Be decisive. In my post, The Invigorating Power of Decisiveness, I talk about the momentum and energy that build when you choose to be decisive. The points above focus on building the courage and will to enable decisiveness. We all have different thresholds. However, once you’ve set your priorities, done your analysis, and solicited input, make the call and don’t look back.
  5. Do it. In Beware of the “Slow No”, I talk about decisions that happen by default. They happen by doing nothing. There may be a place for that somewhere in the world but it typically indicates an unwillingness to take ownership of an issue and involves the rather cowardly behavior of avoidance. Execute your decision and move-on. Period. Even if you discover that it wasn’t the best decision, you deal with it and move on to the next one. There is no going back and second guessing is of no value.

No matter what you do, important decisions are rarely easy. Even the most principled, researched, and advised decisions may still rest under a cloud of doubt. Sorry, that is the nature of leadership. However, you are not where you are because you retreat from decisions. If you stick to your principles and your process, the courage and clarity will follow.

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