What Happens When Leaders Fail To Make Hard Decisions

One of the things that makes one a leader is the responsibility to make decisions. Many of the decisions you make are obvious and easy calls. Other choices are more complicated, and some of the more challenging decisions require you decide even though you lack information. Some of the hardest decisions you will struggle to make will be difficult, political, unpopular, and require the will to act.

When One Leader Fails to Make a Hard Call

If one leader doesn’t make the decision they need to make, their team struggles.

A bad actor on the sales team is infecting other people with their poor beliefs. Soon, the culture you have built and tried to protect is now under siege, and you are losing the battle. In addition to being a bad actor, the person is also a top producer. Removing them from the team also removes their results.

By allowing this individual to go unaddressed, the leader sacrifices their high-performing culture. Because the leader didn’t remove the negative salesperson, the sales force has a de facto leader, one who is untouchable no matter how much they might degrade the rest of the team’s performance.

When one leader doesn’t make a hard call, it impacts that person’s team. It may also cause problems for ancillary teams. What is worse is when many leaders don’t make tough decisions.

When More People Refuse to Take Tough Actions

Imagine a large company with fifty team leaders or managers. Each manager has three identified problems they have left unaddressed. Anyone who stepped into these leader’s roles would address these issues immediately. The existing leaders, however, have learned to live with the problems. They believe the issues are too political or too disruptive to address.

  • The Sales Team: The performance of the sales team is less than it should be because one of their own is negative and infecting the rest of the group, providing them with excuses and surreptitiously poisoning them with debilitating beliefs about their company. The sales team misses its goals because one person talks down their company or their strategy. One person is lowering their standards, and sowing the seeds of destruction. The sales leader takes no action against their bad actor. The result is the equivalent of endorsing the bad actor’s behavior.
  • The Ops Team: The operations team is struggling. Because they are understaffed and overwhelmed, they ask the sales team to pitch in and pick up the slack. The sales leader wants to be a team player, and they need the operations team to take care of their clients. The sales leader pulls their team out of the field to help clean up operations, removing them from their primary responsibilities.
  • The Sales Team: Now, the sales team is further behind on their goals, and because they work in sales, there is no one to help them reach their goals by making cold calls and scheduling sales meetings with new prospects. The sales force’s help allowed the operations team’s real problems to continue unresolved. The root cause still exists, ready to rear its ugly head in the future. Unless and until the operations team gets the staff they need, their problem will only grow worse.
  • The Accounting Team: The software system that runs accounting is only slightly better than an abacus, and the company hasn’t upgraded it since the Truman administration. They send incorrect invoices to clients, dramatically extending the time it takes to collect their payments.
  • Because no one in accounting trusts the system, they’ve resorted to sending invoices in a template they created in Microsoft Excel. Now the invoices are not in the system, and no one is certain which clients have paid, and they have no way to print a receivables report. They now have less cash than they need, putting additional strain on the company, and limiting the options for the leadership teams.

The Senior Leader’s Dilemma

  • Executive Leadership: The senior leadership has recognized a market threat, one that will put their strategy under immense pressure while providing their competitors with an advantage. The executive leadership team needs to respond, but because they are so busy with the day-to-day operational challenges, they haven’t spent the time to determine a path forward. This is the only team who can make what will be a tough choice.

One leader who refuses to make a necessary decision can harm a team. When many leaders can’t, don’t, or won’t make the decisions they need to make, the entire company struggles.

Problems Don’t Age Well

One of the most important leadership skills is making decisions, and more specifically, the tough decisions that require difficult conversations and effective leadership.

One of the legends about Jack Welch, the famed CEO of General Electric, is that he required his managers to fire the bottom ten percent of their employees each year. Managers who worked there have suggested that there was never a year in which they removed all the poor performers. I don’t believe that was Welch’s intention. Instead, by making such a demand, he forced his managers to improve their performance or move them into another role.

Problems don’t age well. Tiny monsters grow up to be much larger monsters over time. As a leader, you have to make the tough calls. Not making the tough calls leaves problems unaddressed and unresolved. This allows them to grow in size and cascade through the organization.

Great leadership means making hard decisions. The quicker you move on the problems and challenges, the better your results. If you are a senior leader, the sooner you create a culture that doesn’t flinch when it comes to making difficult decisions, the better your overall results will be.

Filed under: Leadership

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