Making the Hard Choices as a Leader

The right way is not always the popular and easy way. – Margaret Chase Smith

A manpower agency is at the brink of closing one of their more tenured lines of business, lead generation. This lead generation has not been as productive as before because their client has almost completely dominated the market today. There were very few opportunities for new leads. John, their manager is at his wits-end. He is worried that 30 people from his group may lose their jobs over the next months based on his business projections. Just as he was about to lose hope and get ready to prepare communication plans for this closure, he overhears one of his employees say to another, “We are lucky, we are getting paid for dealing with two to three accounts daily. My friend is with the claims, and they are servicing the same client. They are doing fifty or more a day!”

John suddenly had an idea. He checked with the claims manager and learned that they have a huge backlog; they need more people. In a heartbeat, John called a meeting with the claims manager and offered to have people in lead generation cross-trained for claims. This pleased the manager and not long after, the conversation was already with the client. It is easy to convince the client because there will be less days required for training since lead generation employees are already product trained. They saw that this would be a very efficient move.

When training began, the employees in the lead-generation department were not happy to hear that they would be getting additional work. They also complained that they are getting paid the same as the others, but they are doing two things. They were furious that John made a suggestion that “makes life worse” for them. They gave John the cold shoulder for several days. When John noticed this, he spoke to them. Some people were very vocal, and some were quiet about their feelings. John, however, did not falter. He explained to everyone, “I empathize with all of you guys. But what you need to know is that, while my decision is not popular to you, it saved everyone’s job…” And he continued to share the rationale behind this business decision. Of course some were still not satisfied, but John was confident he made the right decision, and everyone came to accept things later on.

Making the hard choices for the business can be an overwhelming responsibility for any leader. It requires careful consideration and a keen sense of direction. So, what does it really take to make a firm stand like John has? How can one make great decisions despite difficult circumstances? These are just a few questions that you may be asking. We have put together in this article a few best practices and mindsets that might help greatly.

Remember that what is right is not always what is agreeable. As Filipinos, we have always been conditioned to go with the pulse of the majority. But a true leader must have the ability to take a step-back and identify the situation from an objective standpoint. Not all popular viewpoints are correct. Keep your eye on the goal. By taking this step, however, a leader should not lose his values. We will further discuss the importance of your company values in a later segment.

Calculate your risks. Making the hard choice can also be extra difficult at times because uncontrollable factors often make you uncertain of the possible results. In these situations, it is important that you review your priorities and major considerations. This will help you assess which risks are lower and which risks you are willing to take. Knowing how to do a proper risk assessment can definitely help you in ensuring that you only take calculated risks so you can minimize your losses.

Consider your company’s values. The company’s vision, mission, and values are there for a reason. People often think that these are only posted on the walls for formality, but that should not be. Your mission, vision and values reflect your organization’s aspirations. By reviewing these, you will have an insight into your company’s priorities as well as the risks you may be willing to take. Identify and take choices that align with your organization’s values. This will ensure that you are going in the right direction for your company.

Think Long Term. Often, what makes a hard choice is when there are short-term consequences to a long-term benefit we aim to get. When faced with this, there should be no second thoughts. Think of something that will matter far longer than today. This usually means that we may need to make some sacrifices, but it will all turn out well in the end. Remember nothing is ever perfect at the beginning. Anything that is organized always starts in chaos. Choose options that will benefit you in the long run.

Practice creative thinking. Often, we restrict ourselves to the most common go-to solutions. While it is not bad to resort to historically proven solutions, we have to keep our minds open to new possibilities, too. Using all available resources to gather insights and new ways of approaching a problem can ensure that you have a more thorough list of choices. Some of these resources include the people around you, existing documents, historical data, and the internet. Having a brainstorming session around the original problem can sometimes bring out new views that have not been seen before. This may even help us see how a seemingly upfront problem can potentially have several underlying causes. By identifying these causes, we can aim to make choices that would otherwise be unknown to us.

Get insights from a mentor. A good leader also does not always have to make the decision alone. If you are still uncertain after making the previous considerations, you can also seek counsel from a mentor or a senior member of the organization. Find someone that you can trust and have confidence in. Someone who has a longer experience with the company or with a leadership role can provide meaningful insights for your decision. Of course that said, do not just blindly take the advice. Analyze these and see how they align to the company’s values. By doing this, you are seeing more than just one perspective of the situation, which will help you make a more informed decision.

Do not always aim to please. While people skills are essential to leadership, it is not the only thing that matters. Speak to people with empathy. Genuinely listen to suggestions. Allow people to share their opinions. Do all these but remember that you are not obliged to accept these suggestions just because they gave them. They are there for your consideration only. As a leader, you have the last say. Making one decision often means that you will not be able to accept another person’s suggestion. So, be it. Do not put too much thought into it if you have to decline someone’s idea in the end as long as you have considered your risks, practiced creative thinking, and considered your company’s values. Remember that while leadership is about using your heart to connect with people, it is very well about using your head as well to make high-impact decisions. If you take these steps at heart, you will be able to make confident decisions you can stand firm with as you learn along the way. Just like John, you will never falter from your decisions nor regret making them ever again.

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