3 simple ways leaders should make difficult decisions

difficult decisions
Which direction would you choose when somebody will be upset with either choice?

Making difficult decisions as a leader is part of the job. Here are some examples.

  • When do you ask people to work late?
  • Who gets to go on the training course, and who doesn’t?
  • Should you promote someone? Why them and not the others?
  • Do you need to let somebody go? Who is it going to be?

There is never going to be an easy way to make difficult decisions as a leader. They are difficult decisions, because they involve people. When you make decisions that affect people, it is likely that somebody is going to be happy and somebody else is going to be upset.

The best way to make difficult decisions as a leader

I’ve seen the fallout from quite a few difficult decisions. Some were handled well and others were handled like it was amateur hour at the decision-making club.

In my experience, the best way to make difficult decisions is via a three step process.

1. When making difficult decisions, have a process

When you need to make a hard choice that will affect people, have a process. Have a set of criteria you will use to make the decision.

Don’t just jump to an answer. If your mind is heading to a decision by instinct, ask yourself why. Are you being biased? What are the rules that you’re using to arrive at a result?

A process helps you because you can explain it to others. “I just thought that was the right way to go” isn’t going to cut it.

2. When making difficult decisions, explain yourself

Some leaders don’t feel as if they need to explain themselves. Maybe you don’t need to explain yourself at all. Perhaps you can do whatever you want.

When you explain to affected people how and why you’ve made your decision, it makes a big difference. People get to see behind the curtain and can attempt to understand the reasons why you did what you did.

Don’t get me wrong. People will listen to your reasons and some of them may still be angry, because they might not agree with them. Some decisions involve a lot of emotion. Even if you are completely rational and reasonable in your decision making, people may be too upset to realise that.

That’s OK.

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3. When making difficult decisions, make it fair

You have a process. You’re going to explain yourself. Now, the kicker. Is what you’re doing fair? Something that has the most potential to create issues is when people believe the decision has been unfair.

If people think you have a biased process or you aren’t explaining yourself, people will perceive you as being unfair. This can be extremely damaging to morale and open you up to all sorts of issues.

Think through the decision you are making and consider whether it seems fair. Ask a colleague to review the decision before you make it. You might think you’re being fair, but this can be subject to unconscious bias. This won’t be obvious if you don’t get another opinion.

When making difficult decisions, you will never get it right

You won’t get it “right”. Ever. Somebody will be upset after a difficult decision.

However, if you have a process, you’ve been open about what you’re doing and you have tried your best to make it fair, then you have done a good job.

Don’t expect everybody to like your decision. That’s life, and everyone has a different perspective. Perhaps you made the wrong decision? You may not know until a few months later. But that’s OK, because you can’t know everything. You’ll know for next time.

When making difficult decisions, have a process, explain yourself and make it fair. Then move on knowing that you’ve done a good job.

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