How to Make Tough Decisions in a Genuine Way

Business.com / Leadership / Last Modified: August 7, 2017
Photo credit: Elnur/Shutterstock

Leaders in any business should give precedence to the big picture when they face difficult decisions.

Elon Musk recently embodied one of the paradoxes of resilient leadership: Good leaders are rock solid but can pivot on a dime. This quality isn't as much of a contradiction as it seems. Musk has never deviated from his mission of helping humanity, yet his resignation from the White House Advisory Council shows that he can reverse his stance very quickly when his efforts aren't serving his long-term goals.

Leaders in any business – even those who operate at a fraction of Musk's scale – should give precedence to the big picture when they face difficult decisions. No one can predict a business decision's effects, which is what makes decision-making so difficult. But in the end, a resilient leader can overcome a project's obstacles and make tough decisions by understanding how the consequences, in terms of ultimate happiness, will affect the business and everyone who is a part of it.

Tough but necessary choices

Personnel changes can represent one of the most difficult decisions any business leader ever has to make. During financial strain or transition periods, leaders may have to let employees go for reasons beyond their work performance.

Scaling back my team, especially the first time I had to do it, was one of the toughest decisions I've ever had to make as a leader. For a company that holds loyalty as a core value, the decision to furlough several loyal employees was a painful reminder of the practical constraints of operating a business.

I was also aware that scaling back the team could hurt morale and change the team dynamics and culture, so I made sure that I was informed about the reasons we had gotten there in the first place. Not only would that insight help me avoid those pitfalls in the future, but it would also foreground the big-picture outlook for my company. I recognized that my tough decision was a necessary move, which has since helped me see the holistic impact of the decision, not just how it affects one area of the company.

3 strategies for making big decisions

Thankfully, not all decisions affect the personal well-being of employees. Regardless of what kind of business decision you're charged with making, there are three strategies you can follow that will ease the process:

1. Keep the big picture in mind.

Be realistic when brainstorming and planning out the long-term, big-picture mission of your business, and always keep that mission in mind when making decisions. Neglecting to see the impact of a single decision on the entire organization can have an avalanche effect.

Eventually, outside influences may begin to pull a project or your business away from its original goal, and that's when you have to make tough decisions about the course ahead. For example, when Musk realized that his participation in the White House Advisory Council wasn't winning the administration over to his position on climate change, he quickly pivoted because he wasn't meeting his big-picture goals.

Even a tactic as simple as making a list of pros and cons can center your mind on the big picture of what is most important to you and your business.

2. Follow through with your decision.

Once you've chosen the route that's best for your business, don't allow the time to talk yourself out of it. Bite the bullet on a Monday, because executing the decision will feel much worse if you agonize over it all week. Worse, if you waffle and allow yourself to dwell too long on that decision and its endless possibilities, you may not actually enact it at all.

People respect leaders who make strong decisions and are resilient. It's difficult to follow people who say that they'll do something and then fail to follow through. Even if no "right" decision presents itself, the worst kind of action is inaction. In the long run, a leader's resilience – maintained by reasserting his or her authority – may save the company or enable employees to keep working through a project successfully.

3. Talk to your team.

Zenger Folkman survey of more than 500 leaders indicated that communication is one of the top qualities of resilient leaders. A Robert Half Management Resources survey reported that 65 percent of leaders say frequent communication is the key to a successful transition. So, after you announce any big decision, offer team members an opportunity to give feedback or ask questions.

When leaders act decisively, employees might see them as cold or ruthless. Even though they might respect a bold decision for the sake of that decision, fear and unease could set in if you don't open up the floor for questions and concerns. Good communication is especially important when the organization is undergoing any fundamental change. It's critical for leaders to not only provide clear direction, but also to follow up on the results of that direction. When employees have a chance to understand the decisions leaders make, it allows them to keep trusting those in charge and ensures a stable outcome for the business.

Ultimately, employees follow bold and resilient leaders. If you're confident in your decisions and you make them quickly with the big picture in mind, the results are much more likely to be positive.

Login to Business.com

Login with Your Account
Forgot Password?
New to Business.com? Join for Free

Join Business.com

Sign Up with Your Social Account
Create an Account
Sign In

Use of this website constitutes acceptance of the Terms of Use, Community Guidelines, and Privacy Policy.

Reset Your Password

Enter your email address and we'll send you an email with a link to reset your password.

Cancel