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Leadership Thought #245 – Leaders Are Paid To Make the Hard Decisions

June 4, 2019

Free Side view of frustrated bearded African American businessman in formal wear sitting on street near building in city after workday Stock Photo

Making important decisions is a critical part of running an organization.

Leadership is rarely about doing what is easy.  If the decision ends up on your desk it typically means no one else can or should be making it.  As Harry Truman was fond of saying, “The buck stops here.”  If you are delegating properly, then your people will feel empowered to step up and make most day-to-day decisions.  If you are picking the right people, then they will be capable of using sound judgment and thinking through just about anything.  However, some issues come down to leadership prerogative and accountability.

As the leader, once you get to 10 or more employees you should spend more time “thinking” and less time “doing”.  This is a difficult concept for many people to grasp.  The reason you ended up where you are is that you were more proactive than others were and did what you said you would do.

As your company grows, the stakes will only get higher, and you must accept that you can’t do everything anymore.  What used to be simple decisions become more nuanced and complicated.  You cannot simply outwork the competition anymore and you must also outthink and outmaneuver them.  You no longer have the time to be mired in the weeds of day-to-day business actions and decision making.

A leader should be ahead of the market curve and see things others don’t see.  Today’s opportunities could be tomorrow’s nightmares.  Saying “no” becomes more important than saying “yes.”  Your business model will require constant refinement and can grow stale quickly.   Financial risk can grow exponentially.  New and established competitors will always be lurking on the horizon and testing your vulnerabilities.  Your talented people will want to take more initiative and expect greater autonomy.   Sadly, you will outgrow the capabilities of many loyal people – understanding and acting on this reality while painful is essential to sustained growth and success.

It takes both self-confidence and courage to lead an organization, but you must be careful to keep your ego in check. You won’t always be right, but you should be quick to learn from your mistakes and create an environment where others do the same.   The only way to grow your organization is to grow your people.  The only way to grow your people is to step back and let them do their job.  You already have enough on your plate that needs to be done without getting distracted by the “lower hanging fruit” of other people’s responsibilities.   Creating an environment of accountability is different than doing employee’s jobs for them.

I have a colleague who encourages his clients to put a “post it” on their computer screen with the question -“Whose job am I doing right now?”  A leader’s job is to find answers to the tough questions that are critical to his/her company’s success and survival.   This doesn’t mean you still don’t act as the “closer” on big sales or ensure solid financial management or focus on employee/cultural issues or champion customer satisfaction.  It does mean, however, that you begin to view these issues strategically not tactically and as part of a larger interconnected strategy that will need to be executed by others.