Making difficult leadership decisions

In Jim Collins’ leadership classic Good to Great many people were introduced to two concepts: the bus and Level 5 Leaders. Collins explained how “great” leaders get the wrong people off the bus (of organizational leadership), get the right people on the bus, and get the right people in the right seats.

Level 5 leadership decisions are made by few leaders, but can result in a breakthrough leading his or her organization from good to great. In many cases the very act of getting the wrong people on the bus, the right people on the bus, and the right people in the right seats requires high-level decision-making.

level 5 leaderLevel 5 leaders recognize the most important decisions are almost always the most difficult. One reason most leaders do not lead organizations from good to great is those difficult decisions are delayed until it is too late to positively impact the organization. When you have delayed a difficult decision so long that everyone else in the organization sees the need, it is likely too late. What follows are some thoughts to help you make Level 5 decisions:

1. Identify the Level 5 decision to be made. Is it a re-allocation of budget money? Changing personnel? Selling a building? Building a building? Speaking to the media? Implementing a strategic plan? You cannot make the decision until you have removed all the weeds and identified it clearly.

2. Determine why this is the real decision to be made. If a staff change seems to be the real decision, why should you make it? Is it a talent issue, or do you just not like the individual? If it is a talent issue, the why might be appropriate. If it is a personality or jealousy issue, the issue might be with you. If you cannot explain the why to the board, your staff, or your management team, perhaps you do not possess sufficient reason to make the decision.

3. When should the decision be enacted? Many leaders dread making difficult decisions. As a result such decisions are delayed, delayed and delayed again. Budget issues go unaddressed leaving managers in a state of flux. Construction decisions are bandied about for endless revisions because the decision maker never says, “That’s it. We are moving forward.” The wrong people remain on the bus so it never reaches its destination.

When leaders delay difficult decisions, it creates multiple difficult future decisions all of which are unnecessary. When the decision has been identified, and the rationale is clear, supportable and explainable, make the decision. There will likely be fallout from making a Level 5 decision, but the fallout from not making the decision could be the death knell of your organization, or your leadership in it.


Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.

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  • Five At Five #2
  • Not making a decision is actually making a decision, but it is usually the worst one you can make because it causes so many other bad decisions.

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