Often, as a leader, you will find yourself in a position where you need to make tough decisions. It may come in the form of letting an employee go because the company just can’t afford to keep them or deciding it’s time for your family to make some changes because you notice one of your children heading down the wrong path. Whatever the situation is that you find yourself in, it will require you to step up and make the tough decision.
Tough decisions are tricky for a leader because it is regularly the case that those who are affected may not be able to know the details behind the decision and so they base their reactions and opinions on limited information. As with most things in life that are tough, this is something that you will work through and make it through and usually you will be better off for it. So, the art of navigating touch decision really lies in making it through the initial time period around and after making the decision.
Here are some steps to consider when faced with a tough decision:
Do your homework. Tough decisions are hard enough – so don’t make them without making sure that the tough decision your about to make is the right decision. Ask yourself if there are other ways to arrive at the same intended outcome without taking the action that you’re considering. Find out, from trusted mentors and those that you look up to for guidance, whether they feel like your plan is the right one and the best one. Tough decisions are rarely ever “win-win” so you must have confidence that it is the best course of action given the circumstances or else you will second-guess yourself and the decision and those that you lead will sense your lack of confidence.
Communicate to those affected. It may be easier to withdraw or avoid talking with people about the circumstances around your tough decision – but this only makes things worse. As soon as the decision is made, you should begin developing a communication plan. This includes talking to the employee that your terminating, for example, but it also includes those in the employee’s department and those in the organization that are directly impacted by the change.
What and how you communicate is vitally important to the success of the future. Since you followed step one above, you should be confident in your decision. As you communicate the tough decision that you made, remember to project confidence in your decision and confidence in the future. Don’t come across as arrogant or prideful, however. This decision may be toughest for you, however others may be hurt or confused or event angry about the decision – so communicate with empathy show them that you care. Also, communicating tough decisions are always best if done in person. However, if that is not possible, then take the time to carefully craft your communication so that it comes across as warm as possible and make sure it is clear that you are available to discuss it further if necessary.
Evaluate the results. This may be a little too obvious, but it is important that you evaluate the results. In hindsight, was this the best decision and did it lead to the desired outcome? If it did, then great – celebrate that you did the right thing. If it did not, then admit it and seek to fix it. As I said earlier, these moment hardly ever lead to a “win-win” situation. So, it’s no surprise that you may have to adjust your sails in order to fully hit the target that you originally intended. Be ok with that from the beginning and commit to evaluating the result along the way so that, if nothing else, you can grow from this experience as a leader and be better able to make the tough decisions in the future.
How about you – what is a tough decision that you’ve had to make? Which of these 3 things could you have done better to lead to a better end result?