Whether we want to accept it or not – every choice we make, every option we’re presented with, and opportunity that calls our name comes with accompanying trade-offs. Sometimes the trade-offs are significant and sometimes they’re simply an inconvenience. But we can’t allow ourselves to make the mistake that I, the eternal optimist, too often make – believe that there are choices with no trade-offs.
Even the best options have trade-off’s. For example, a good friend asks me to spend an afternoon fishing with him. Great option, there are not many other things in the world I’d rather do on an afternoon. But choosing to go fishing comes with a myriad of potential trade-off’s. Fishing might set me back a half of day at my job requiring me to work on the weekend, or keep me from getting a project completed at home, or miss an outing with my wife. So, as you can see, even the best choices have trade-off’s.
And since every choice has trade-off’s the question is – how do we eliminate or minimize them? How do we get closer to the optimist’s happy place – choices with no trade-off’s? There are 3 steps I’ve learned that help me minimize these pesky trade-off’s:
- Name each major trade-off, including those involved, by writing them down.
- Create a plan to deal with each trade-off. When possible, try to turn a trade-off into an advantage (the optimist’s approach to trade-off’s). For example – if I go fishing it’ll lead me to work at the office on Saturday. But Saturday’s when the office is quiet, so I’ll be able to better concentrate on that project I’ve been struggling with.
- Communicate the trade-off’s as soon as possible with those impacted by them. Better to be upfront with my wife about the trade-off and work out a different option for our outing, then to catch her at the last-minute and simply cancel out.
Taking these three steps has helped me live with my optimistic side while making choices that are more realistic.
When leaders make tough decisions the chances of their success goes up proportionately to the amount of trust they’ve established by those effected by their decisions. Think about it this way – if, as we talked about in Part 3 & 4, courage is the ignition that starts the process of making tough decisions, trust then is the fuel that brings those tough decisions to a positive conclusion. We need trust to assure tough decisions do not fall apart, so they move as fast as tough decisions need to, and because in almost every decision we need the support and help of others to make our tough decisions become reality.
So how to you build the kind of trust needed to make tough decisions? First, as discussed in Part 4, we need to have a track record of making decisions consistent with our personal and organizational core values and beliefs (which also requires people knowing what these are). When we have this track record people know what to expect from us when difficult situations arise. This happens because core values and beliefs help us become consistent and predictable in our behaviors and in our decisions. And when we’re consistent and predictable people are never surprised at the tough calls we make. Ironically, from my experience, many times people have anticipated my tough decisions long before I’ve made them and have even wondered – what took Perry so long? This kind of consistency and predictability builds enormous trust even when your decision isn’t popular.
Second, we build trust through transparency, honesty and forthrightness in all our decisions, whether tough ones or not. When people believe a leader is disclosing as much information as possible in a timely fashion with no secrets being tucked away, trust goes up even when decisions are hard. And once again, if we have a track record of transparency, just like a track record of decisions made on values and beliefs, then people will go along with us even if they don’t like or agree with the decision. In Part 6 we’ll tackle the sticky situation when the law and ethics require us to withhold information from others we used in our decision-making process.
Finally one last benefit to having pocket full of trust stored up – is it provides a leader with some margin (which we almost always need when making hard decisions) if the decision we’ve made wasn’t 100% the right one or we made and implemented it in a less than perfect way.
In my last post we discussed the need to courageously face the brutal facts and resist the temptation to “bend the map”. So, for leaders, the obvious follow-up question’s are:
- Where do we find this courage?
- What’s the solid foundation we can plant our feet on?
- Where do we find the confidence that, regardless of the outcome of our decisions, we can rest knowing we made them based on strong values and clear convictions?
It’s in this last question that we find the foundation to having the courage to make those tough decisions. We need to seek, find and articulate both our personal and our organizational values and beliefs. So to that end, let’s take a brief look at both core values and beliefs and the critical role each play in making tough decisions.
Core values answer the question – what’s most important? What are the things we’re willing to work and sacrifice for, and never compromise on? What’s so important that we’ll defend these values even if it causes great pain and loss? Think of the great price paid by the men and women of our military to defend our nation’s core values of liberty and freedom. Core values, when used in decision-making, provide a guide on what we’re willing to do and not to do.
The second half of our foundation for courage is knowing our core beliefs. Core beliefs answer the question – what do we believe to be true? They’re different from core values because they’re found outside of ourselves or our organization not from within. Though they’re similar to core values, because when they’re core we’re willing to defend, sacrifice, and suffer pain and loss because of them. However we must remember that core beliefs are true regardless of whether everyone values or believes them. Articulating core beliefs is an act of acknowledging the reality in which we live and work and gives us a solid foundation to face and make difficult decisions. It keeps us from “bending the map” and helps assure we’re making decisions that match up with the realities of the world.
So as leaders we have the dual responsibility of knowing and articulating both our personal as well as our organization’s core values and beliefs. They provide us the foundation for the courage we need to make tough decisions, the peace of mind we seek during difficult times and the guard rails to keep us on track.
If you’ve never articulated your personal and your team’s core values and belief’s I encourage you to begin the process as soon as possible. Taking time before the new year begins will help you and your leadership prepare for the inevitable tough decisions that will come your way in 2016.
Tough decisions have their birth when a leader’s faced with what Jim Collins calls the brutal facts. Brutal facts are those stubborn, nasty little realities that scream at us “leader, you have serious problems”. And serious problems always require making the tough decisions to solve them.
Which is the problem for so many leaders – when we’re faced with the brutal facts we must do something with them, we’re compelled to act, to make tough decisions. So one of the first and most courageous steps a leader must take is simply to face the facts and accept them for what they are – reality. But there’s a strong temptation to explain away the facts that will cause us difficulty, pain, extra work, or we simply don’t like.
This temptation has the same elements as the temptation people often faced with when they become lost, it’s a phenomena psychologists call “bending the map.” It’s when a lost person stops believing their map because it doesn’t line up with what they think their reality should be. They explain away the inconsistencies between what their map is telling them and where they find themselves. They chose not to believe their map but instead to believe their own distorted reality. This happens because the fear of being lost is such a powerful emotion that people will disregard all the facts, talk themselves into believing what is false all to stave off that fear, even if the result’s to become more lost.
From my experience the phenomena of bending the map doesn’t just occur when people are lost. Something similar happens when leaders bend their financial maps because they can’t accept their financial results, or they bend their people maps when they can’t believe people would act or perform in a certain way, or they bend their performance maps because the key indicators don’t line up with their expectations. When leaders lose the courage to face the brutal facts they begin to explain away and rationalize that their maps are wrong and their indicators are off base. They chose bending the map instead of taking the very courageous step of facing the brutal facts and admitting their lost.
So the very first step in making the tough decisions is to resist the temptation to bend whatever map you’re looking at and instead to face the brutal facts. To embrace the reality your map is telling you and, more importantly, to accept the responsibility to change course by making the tough decision.
Is there any place in your leadership where you are or have bent the map, where you’ve failed to face the brutal facts? What have you done to find the courage to accept the harsh reality staring you in the face?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
The most important test a leader will ever face is when he or she must make the tough, painful, gut wrenching, and sleep losing decision. It’s part of the leader’s job, it’s in their unwritten job description – leaders must make hard decisions, it’s not a matter of if, but of when.
So when I was asked to teach a workshop on how to make tough decisions at the Christian Camp and Conference Association’s (CCCA) national conference in December I said yes.
To that end, over the next month, as I prepare to present I will post some of my ruminations about this important subject looking for input and feedback.
One of my first conclusions about making tough decisions is not only do leaders need to make hard decisions but being a multiplying leader (Leadership25) and making hard decisions are actually synonymous. The two are inseparable. To be a leader means to make hard decisions.
The reason is we live in a fallen and broken world and, as a result, hard decisions will come our way. So it is that leaders will always face hard calls. And the most impactful leaders will always take on the hard decisions, seeing them as opportunities to make a difference in the world.
Over the next several weeks, as I develop my workshop on making hard decisions, I will post thoughts on such issues as:
- Conviction and courage
- Facing the brutal facts
- Clarity on answers to key questions
- Being the only person with all the information
- Trust and Speed
- The Fog of war and making mistakes
What I’d love is for you to join me in this work. I’d love your feedback, thoughts, and stories that can help me create an effective workshop that will benefit leaders from around the country and the world.
The weather report was calling for heavy rain beginning about midnight. It was our 5th day on the AT, and my son, MD, and I were standing outside one of the many hostels along the trail. MD’s plan called for us to keep hiking further up the trail and stay at a rustic camp spot. But because of the weather report we had to decide – stick with the plan and keep hiking, or stay at the hostel?
As I mentioned in my last post, MD had a well thought out plan for our trip. He knew where we would camp each night, how far we’d walk each day, where we’d leave our car and how we would get to the starting point. He was even thoughtful enough to send me a copy of the plan before we left so I’d be fully in the loop.
But unfortunately I didn’t look at his itinerary very closely (actually not at all) nor did I do any research about where we’d be hiking, what places we’d pass, even what the names of our planned campsites. There was no excuse for me not having a clue about this section of the AT, with MD’s written plan and all the details about every section of the AT readily available on-line and in books. So there I was standing in front of the hostel, with no clue, trying to help us make this decision.
Late in the day, after deciding to keep hiking, we found ourselves stumbling around in the light of dusk, trying to find this remote campsite. I was once again little help because I just wasn’t familiar with the details of the trail or the plan.
In other words I didn’t do my homework as good leaders (and followers) must do.
You see, when leaders don’t do their homework they can’t contribute to their team’s decision quality, potentially hindering success. In our case, it all turned out fine because of MD’s good plan. But what I did by not doing my homework was lay all the responsibility for our trip’s success on my son’s shoulders. That wasn’t right or fair. Because I was a part of the trip I owed it to him to have done my homework so when the circumstances called for it I could help us make the best decisions possible.
The lesson learned? Good leaders and followers must do their homework so, the situation calls for it; they’re ready to help their teams make the best decisions possible.