Leadership,  Living as a Leader

Making the Tough Decisions – Part 2, What makes a Decision Tough?

Barn and piano

As people, and as leaders, we face decisions every day, all day long.  Most are easy, simple decisions, because they’re decisions we make often – where to go to lunch, what route to take to work, which new jacket to buy, etc..  But other decisions are not so easy.  They require much more from us than the routine decisions we make everyday. Yet, as I said in Part 1, it’s these tough decisions that provide us the greatest opportunity to positively impact the world and the lives of others.

So what’s the anatomy of a tough decision?  There are three facets to every decision that determine their degree of difficulty:

  1. The potential consequences:  The bigger the consequences of making (or not making) a decision the tougher it is to make.  Think about a decision to walk across a steel I-beam straddling a 3 foot deep ditch to reach a hurt child compared to one stretched between two buildings 20 stories above the ground.  The bigger the potential consequences, the tougher the decisions.
  2. The quality and nature of the information can make decisions tough. It’s what I call the leader’s “fog of war” (we’ll discuss further in a future post).  The “fog of war” results in distorted and missing information.  On the other hand,  there are times when the information is available and clear but our lack of experience or expertise makes it hard to digest and process, thus making decisions tough.
  3. People are nearly always an element in tough decisions.  The people element makes decisions tough because:
  • We see the potential negative consequences people may experience from these decisions, and
  • because people often fight you and your decisions because most people do not like change .

For me, because I’m both by nature a risk taker and a people pleaser,  it’s the people element that makes my decisions difficult.  When faced with hard decisions I can tend to lose a lot more sleep thinking about all the potential people issues than I do about the consequences or the nature of information I’m looking at.  It’s the people element that clouds my thinking, slows my decisions, and often trips me up.  I’ve found I benefit from seeking and listening to an outsider’s perspective concerning the people element when faced with tough decisions.  When I can talk with some one with a detached perspective I’m in a better position to make the right call even when it impacts people I love.

Thanks for your input on my last post.  They’re very helpful to my cause of preparing for a workshop I’m giving at the Christian Camp and Conference Association’s (CCCA) national conference.  Here are two more questions I’d love to hear your thoughts on:

  • Which of these three facets of a decision do you find the most challenging?
  • What do you do to help yourself work through this facet when you’re faced with a tough decisions?


  • Claire Phillips

    Always nice to see your name in my inbox 🙂 Especially given I’m about to make some major tough decisions. Here are my thoughts on your two questions:

    1. Like you, I am a people pleaser, and so the people element almost always hijacks my thoughts and timing. Beyond that, I am a natural data geek and researcher. So I can get trapped in analysis paralysis trying to *really* determine the pros and cons of various options and their consequences. 2. For the people piece, I remind myself that I am not responsible for everyone. I can be empathetic and make decisions acknowledging the impact on people, but cannot and will not ever please everyone. As for the potential consequences piece, I’ve worked really hard to get to a place where I am comfortable making decisions/recommendations when I am 60-75% confident. That is very hard for a perfectionist people pleaser – and it’s been a tough journey. But holding myself to slightly lower standards helps me make quicker decisions. Also, I agree that getting outside opinions helps get me out of the weeds as well.

    Hope that helps, and that you and the family are doing well! claire

    • Michael Perry

      Hi Claire,

      Thanks so much for the great input. This is very helpful. I appreciate your comments about being a “data geek” and how that can slow you down or create doubt in decision making. It makes me think that other barriers there are that get in the way of leaders making the tough decision? I went at this post from my own barriers, you’ve added another. I’ll need to think through others, because each barrier requires a different solution to over come. Blessings to you and your family as well.

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