Join John Ullmen for an in-depth discussion in this video Take responsibility and be decisive, part of Executive Leadership.
- One of the world's leading global executive search firms did an extensive study, and I got to see the results. After assessing thousands of CEO candidates over the years, and examining in detail who succeeded and failed, they're research revealed a key success factor was, acting decisively and courageously. Why? Because anyone can play it safe, do nothing notable, and blend in. But when senior leaders are vague and wishy washy, people lose confidence and motivation, and organizations flounder.
How can you follow someone who won't choose a direction? But, it's challenging, because executive level decisions tend to come with significant uncertainty and risk. A leader I coached put it this way, "The toughest choices get pushed up to me. "If I'm making a lot of easy decisions, "I'm not doing my job, I'm doing someone else's for them. "I need to make decisions others shy away from." It's not easy. It's one of the reasons Thomas Jefferson called leadership, "That splendid misery "that involves the daily loss of friends." Shouldering so much responsibility, you can feel alone.
In surveys asking new CEOs what's most surprising about the role, that "lonely at the top" feeling of making difficult decisions, is consistently on the list. Executive leadership calls for courage, to take a stand, despite pressure, complexity, competing priorities, ambiguity, and resistance. Aristotle said, "Courage is the first of human virtues "because it's the one that guarantees all the others." This certainly applies in organizations, because we need leaders who consistently have the courage to make decisions that give clear direction, focus energy, and rally commitment.
Know that and prepare for it. Here's how to do it. Get in the habit of making sharp, clear choices and articulating why you made them, while respecting, crediting and appreciating those who advocated different choices. Sometimes you'll be right, and sometimes you'll be wrong, but people will respect your decisiveness and courage and stay with you, especially if you back it up with respect and genuine appreciation. Use your strategic perspective, take input from key stakeholders, gather diverse points of view, ask if you're solving the right problem, explore what the root causes are that's driving the problem, generate alternatives and consider consequences.
Challenge your assumptions, biases, and the limits of your experience and expertise. Ask what data is missing, even if you have data already, that's a common blind spot. Practice all these steps when the stakes are low, so it's more familiar when the stakes are high. And finally, consult trusted advisers regularly. It's the best remedy for Jefferson's misery and that decision-point aloneness. Sometimes it can feel isolating, but you don't need to be isolated.
Instead, stay regularly in touch with people outside your team or business whose judgment you trust, and you'll not only be more decisive, you'll make better decisions.
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- Understanding the four disciplines of executive leadership
- Thinking strategically
- Creating shared purpose
- Inspiring confidence—even under pressure
- Motivating and communicating
- Establishing priorities and focus
- Leading change
- Developing yourself<br><br>
- The PMI Registered Education Provider logo is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.