Decisions, Decisions

Decisions are the fuel of all successful endeavors. If you’re a person who strives to succeed you’ll need to make many decisions in your life. Try as you might, some of them will be bad decisions.

Some will be very bad.

I’ve written before about my thoughts on the importance of sound decision-making. Success requires not just decision-making but GOOD decision-making. Skilled decision makers use what I call judgecernment, the combination of judgment and discernment, to make the best decision possible. The most successful people don’t always make the best decision possible but they get many more “right” than “wrong” and the “bigger” the decision the more likely they are are to get it right.

But sometimes it’s the little ones, the quick ones, that when wrong, haunt you.

I’m truly fortunate to be trusted to speak in front of groups, often. It is an honor to be considered skilled enough and thoughtful enough to share my opinions and thinking with an organization’s people and in some cases, their customers.

Sometimes while “on stage” I’ll share some jokes too. I have this theory that if you’re in front of hundreds of people and you’re telling jokes then you are most certainly going to offend someone. No matter what you say, if somebody laughs then somebody else, at least one somebody, will be offended. No matter how “safe” the joke is, somebody will always be offended. I’m perfectly okay with that. So long as it’s not too many “somebodys.”

Last week in front of a very large group I shared a joke more suited to a barroom than a ballroom. I’d love to claim poor judgment but there would need to be at least a bit of judgment displayed in order to claim that it was poor. It was actually just a very bad decision.

I’m sure I disappointed some people with my decision. While I don’t want to seem cavalier about the feelings of other people because they do matter, I’m really not overly concerned about that.

Here’s what really made it a bad decision… I disappointed myself. I forgot for a moment the honor of being trusted in front of a group. While many people laughed (well, maybe not actually
many but some) and some more were even still laughing about the joke the next day.

Truth be told I’ve received little negative feedback from the joke but it doesn’t really matter because I was offended. I was offended by the fact that I failed to model the behavior I speak and write about every day. I got lazy and failed to look for a better, more appropriate joke. It’s a decision that will haunt me for awhile and frankly, it needs to. It’s good to be reminded that despite my skill and experience I can still make bad decisions that negatively affect other people.

Like I said, some decisions will be very bad.

So, you know what I did about that? I learned. Immediately. I committed to myself to make better decisions next time and then I made a whole bunch of decisions the very next day. They were all better decisions than the one from the night before though admittedly, I’d set the bar pretty low.

Successful people cannot allow bad decisions to prevent them from making decisions in the future. The failure to make any decisions, or to make decisions too slowly, can cost companies just as much as making poor decisions, sometimes even more.

Successful people learn from every decision, good and bad and they know that a person cannot learn from a decision that they refuse to make.

Making no decision is in fact a decision, it is a decision to do nothing and that is almost always a wrong decision. You can’t “fix” a decision until it is made. If you think you can avoid problems by not making a decision then you’ve just made the biggest mistake a decision maker can make.

So learn from your poor decisions, better yet, learn from the poor decisions of others and use the experience to grow as a leader and make better decisions in the future. It’s what successful people do.

And no, I won’t share the joke with you, you won’t be hearing that one from me again anytime soon!

Encouraging Mistakes

I’m not a big fan of mistakes. That might surprise the people who know me best since they also know I make a lot of them.

I make a lot of mistakes because I make a lot of decisions. Mine are mistakes of action and they can be fixed, usually with just a small adjustment. Often, people don’t even realize I made the mistake at all.

Some people believe they can avoid mistakes by not making decisions. They fact is, not making a decision is a decision, it’s a decision to do nothing and it’s almost always the wrong decision. Deciding to do nothing is a huge mistake, it’s a mistake of inaction and it’s often much harder to fix than a mistake of action.

The most successful leaders make a decision the moment that they have the facts required to make it. They make good decisions because they have made a lot of them and they learned as much from the bad ones as they did the good ones.

I get asked from time to time about the best way to help young leaders learn to make decisions. My answer is nearly always the same – let them make decisions!

No one can learn how to make good decisions just by watching someone else do it. If you’re a leader hoping to build future leaders then you need to let your people make decisions. Even some bad ones!

Get out of the way and let them decide. Let them be wrong and let them fix their mistakes. Let them learn from THEIR experience and allow them to build self-confidence by doing… and redoing if that’s what it takes. 

I’m not suggesting any leader stand by and let their people make decisions with potentially devastating consequences, but let them make small decisions and grow their way to bigger ones.

Lead by ensuring they find the lesson in every mistake they make and lead further by helping them develop a plan to make a better decision next time. 

The ability to recover from a mistake or a poor decision can be a great encouragement to your younger leaders. Authentic Servant Leaders don’t use mistakes to criticize their people, they use them to coach and encourage their people. 

It all comes down to this: as a leader, do you have a spirit of criticism or a spirt of encouragement? One forces compliance and one builds commitment. 

One works and one doesn’t. Which one are you? 

Do Leaders Really Need Good Judgment?

There was a time when that question would never have been asked. It was a foregone conclusion that sound judgment was a prerequisite for effective, authentic leadership.

Today however there are some leadership “experts” who are in fact asking that very question. They point out, correctly I might add, that today we have terabytes, and megabytes of data. We have charts and graphs and grids with every color of the rainbow looking at every possible situation from every possible angle. All the data, some experts say, leads the leader right to the proper decision. No real judgment is needed.

I’m not sure I can say crap in this blog but let me tell you, that “expert” thinking is a load of crap in there every was one. Today, as in every other day in history and as in every day in the future, judgment mixed with discernment, or as I prefer to call it “judgcernment” is as vital as it ever was or ever will be.

The experts point out that using data takes the personal bias out of a leader’s decision making and thought process. Well isn’t that just swell; we no longer need a leader who thinks, they just have to be able to read a pie chart. That’s just crazy!

Data may provide facts but wisdom comes from judgment.

We need wise leaders. I want a leader who applies their “life lens” to a situation. I want a leader who uses their experience to make a decision. If the right person is doing the leading I even want them applying their own bias to the decision making process.  

Good leaders have good data but great leaders use their experience and knowledge to judge what data to believe. It might be possible to manage using pure data but people won’t be managed, they want to be led. When you attempt to remove the “human element” from leading human beings the result is utter leadership failure. I’ve never seen a person’s life illustrated on a spreadsheet but there are empty cells in everyone’s history. Judgcernment is required to fill in those blanks.

Is good judgment still a prerequisite for leadership success? Decide for yourself but know this; your answer likely will speak volumes about the authenticity of your own leadership approach.

The Courage of Leadership

Authentic leaders are very unique people. Perhaps that’s why we see so few of them in everyday life. They set themselves apart not only by what they say but by what they do. They simply do things differently than people who merely hold a leadership position or have an impressive sounding title. 

There are a few minimum requirements or qualities that a person must possess to qualify as an authentic leader. The actual qualities of authentic leaders can be debated forever but there are some that are absolute. Integrity and caring are two of the big ones. Judgment, or as I prefer to call it, Judgcernment, is another. Judgcernment is the ability to make a correct decision using both good judgment and discernment. 

That ability is key to effective authentic leadership. Yet many leaders have that ability and still fail in their leadership responsibilities. I believe that’s because they lack one other essential quality of leadership: Courage.

They just don’t have the nerve to pull the trigger on big decisions. They have all the facts, they know what’s right, they have correctly judged and weighed all the possibilities and still they can’t bring themselves to say yes or no.

Courage in a leader inspires their followers to commit rather than merely comply. Followers see the inner battle their leader fights to do what’s right and they commit to do what’s right as well, growing themselves, their leader and their organization.

Leaders with courage don’t just work to smooth things over, they commit to making them right. This is perhaps the hardest part of big decision making; if the decision causes change for anyone it will make someone unhappy. It might even be unfair, but courageous leaders know that the right thing to do isn’t always the fair thing to do and they do it anyway. If you believe that everyone must love you in order for them to respect you then you may be a wonderful friend but you’re likely not an authentic leader.

Courageous leaders are willing to risk being wrong sometimes in order to be right most of the time. They know that decisions move the organization forward. They know that a lack of a decision is in fact a decision; it’s a decision to do nothing and that’s a decision that is almost always wrong and at times catastrophic. 

Courageous leaders make a positive difference in whatever organization they serve. They can come from any level of an organization and they need no tittle or position to effectively influence those around them. They inspire people and organizations to greatness and their leadership far outlasts them.

If you’re wondering if you have the courage to be an authentic leader then remember this: courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is facing your fear and moving forward anyway. Dale Carnegie always said that the only place fear really existed was in our mind. Remove fear from your thoughts today and you’ll find the courage you already possess tomorrow.  

Does Trust Really Matter?

I was asked by a friend of mine, someone recently promoted to a leadership position, just how much trust mattered in a leadership role.

For those of you who read this blog often my answer may surprise you.

I said it depends. I believe that’s true. 

It depends on whether you merely want to occupy a leadership position or if you really want to lead. 

You can manage your way through a leadership position and keep the organizational ship afloat. You can keep the organization together and depending on what your competition does, you may even slowly grow it.

If however, your goal is to actually lead, to make a difference in the lives of your people and truly grow and strengthen your organization, then you must lead. If you want to lead then trust is absolutely vital. Absent trust, there simply is no leadership. 

Here’s why.

To grow any type of organization you must grow it’s people. Better computers, a better process, and better systems will all help you sustain a business. If you want to grow it you’ll need better people. People get better when a leader helps them get better.

A leader can’t help their people until their people trust them enough to try new things.

Let me give you an example. I once worked for a guy who on his first day said he would much prefer that his people make a wrong decision rather than no decision at all. He promised that he wouldn’t be upset with a bad decision and he would help his people work through it.

Now I have no way of knowing if he actually meant that when he said it but the first person who made a bad decision was just hammered by this guy. No one trusted him again. All risk taking stopped, all decision making stopped, all commitment stopped, and nearly all growth stopped along with it. 

This guy was smart, he was well educated and he knew the business inside and out. He also greatly underestimated the importance of trust and it’s role in earning the commitment of his people. Despite his education, his experience, and his knowledge of the business he failed in his leadership role. The lack of trust, as much as any other single thing, did him in.

Here is an absolute leadership fact: if your people can’t trust you then your people can’t follow you. 

If they can’t follow you they can’t commit to you. If you don’t have their commitment then your influence with them will be great reduced. With reduced influence comes a reduced ability to lead.

Trust is the foundation of leadership. You can build your leadership with all the proper skills, tools and techniques but without a foundation of trust, your leadership will fail.

So, what do you think, does trust really matter to a leader? 

Where Leadership Begins

Leadership does not begin when you’re promoted to a leadership position. It doesn’t begin when you’re given a fancy title, even if you’ve earned it. 

Leadership begins when you make the decision that you will LeadToday! It begins when you make the decision to earn the right to lead. When you understand that authentic leadership is earned and that it must be earned anew everyday.  Then and only then do you have a chance to truly lead. 

Leadership begins when you begin to care. Your title or position may cause your people to comply with what you say but if you want to earn their commitment you will need to lead. You’re not a leader if no one is following and no one follows someone who doesn’t care about them. If you can’t care about people then you simply cannot lead people.

Lots of people in leadership positions say they care; authentic leaders don’t need to say they care because they show it everyday. They are intentional in showing it. 

So how about you…. what did you do today to show someone that you cared? Too busy today… so then how about yesterday? Too busy then too…so just how long has it been since you weren’t too busy?

Time sure flys when we get busy doesn’t it? Here’s the thing, when you and your people are at your busiest is exactly when they need to know that they matter to you as a person. It’s when it’s most important that you show you care. 

It doesn’t make you a bad person that you get too busy to show that you care. It does however make you less then a great leader. If you don’t have time to show you care then you don’t have time to lead.

So let me ask you this… what will you do tomorrow to show your people that you care?

The Truth About Great Leadership

leadershipThere is simply a ton of stuff written about leadership. You can find it all over the web. There are sections in libraries and bookstores dedicated to the topic. I’m not sure we could even count all the blogs with a focus on leadership.

If you can’t find something “new” written on the topic of leadership everyday you just aren’t looking. It’s everywhere!

Much of it is very very good. Much of it is very true. Much of it is very motivational and positive.

This is not a positive post. It’s not very motivational either but it is very very true.

I write lots of very positive and motivational leadership tweets over on my Twitter @leadtoday. I believe in everything I write. Leading others is both fulfilling and rewarding. If it’s not both of those for you then maybe you’re not really leading or you need to change your leadership focus from you to your followers.

I have read (and even Tweeted) that if “it’s lonely at the top” you must be doing something wrong. That’s mostly right. But not always. Sometimes it’s very wrong. Sometimes “the top” is the loneliest place on earth.

I also often say that if you’re going to lead you simply must be able to make decisions. That is always right. The good news is that most of the decisions a leader is required to make are easy. Cut and dried. Black and white. Easy!

Sometimes the decision to be made is so big and important that no matter how much consult or input you receive it’s still you making the ultimate decision on your own. Alone.

Sometimes that big decision isn’t even made at the top. Sometimes it’s made from the middle. That doesn’t make it a smaller decision, that can make it even bigger. It can make it harder too, harder in the sense that there is less “protection” in the middle than there is at the top. Either way, making that decision can put you in a pretty lonely place.

Authentic, experienced leaders know that the toughest decisions are the ones that involve people. Money decisions, decisions about vendors, buildings, processes, and investments can all be dwarfed by decisions that involve the lives of other people.

Some leaders run from those decisions. Some hope they just take care of themselves. Still other leaders become almost paralyzed struggling about what to do. The amazing thing is that in most everyone of those instances the leader knows what needs to be done. They know what’s right, they just can’t make themselves do it.

They struggle because doing what’s right may come at great personal expense. When I say expense I’m not talking about money, if it was about money the struggle would be short-lived. The type of expense I’m talking about is personal, long-lasting and emotional. It is the kind of expense that changes lives forever, maybe even the life of the leader. It’s the kind of expense that hurts people, sometimes good people.

It’s a truly monumental decision.

Authentic leaders, the ones who make a real difference in this world, make it. They may only have a few decisions of that magnitude to make in their lives but they make them. They know that avoiding the decision IS a decision. It’s a decision to do nothing and it frequently leads to disaster. So they make the decision.

Authentic leaders know that it takes courage to make these decisions. That courage comes from rock solid principles and the conviction to stand by them, no matter what. They don’t make these kinds of decisions in the absence of fear, they make them in spite of the fear.

You can make a lot of poor decisions on the smaller things and still succeed. If you’re going to succeed as a leader you must get nearly all the big ones right. Perfectly right.

That’s what great leaders do.