The Leader’s Dilemma: “A” Decision, or “The Right” Decision?

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“As a leader, it’s more important to make a decision than to make the right decision.”

You’ve probably heard that adage before, or some version of it, but is it true?

In a word…yes.

(Those of you crunched for time may leave now.)

Okay, let’s be clear. Making the right decision is Plan A. It’s what you’re shooting for. It’s the perfect world.

But the world isn’t perfect. Sometimes…

  • …you don’t have all the information you need.
  • …you don’t have all the time you need.
  • …there is no way to know, short of jumping ahead in a time machine, what the “right” decision is. (Note: many leaders of smaller organizations don’t have access to a time machine.)

In my television years, we did a brand new show every week (well…26 weeks out of the year, that is). At the beginning of each new week, the clock started counting down. And at precisely 9:30pm on Saturday night, in front of a packed studio audience, we taped our show. That meant that any decision I made, as Executive Producer, had to be made by 9:30pm on Saturday night.

Sometimes I was confident about the decisions. Sometimes I wasn’t. Many weeks I wished I had a little more time. Some weeks I wished I had better options. But the clock was ticking, and somebody had to make the call.

[Tweet “Your #team needs to feel your confidence. They need to feel that you’re the #leader.”]As a leader, you have to make the call. You have to make the decision. Even when “decision” really means “best guess” (which, in my experience, is more than half the time). And here’s the important part. You have to make the decision with confidence—or at least the appearance of confidence—even when you’re not feeling confident about the decision. Why? Because your team needs to feel your confidence. They need to feel like you’re in control of the situation. They need to feel that you’re the leader.

In the perfect world, you go with Plan A: the right decision. In our imperfect world, you’ll often have to go with Plan B: a decision. But here’s the good news:

More often than not, the decision you make (Plan B) turns out to be the right decision (Plan A).

Why is this? It’s because you’re good at your job. (And yes, perhaps I’m making a wildly off-base assumption here. But I’m not, am I?) You’ve got experience, you’ve got intelligence, you’ve got a great team, and you’ve got common sense. All of these things add up to throw the odds wildly in your favor. So your chances of making the right decision are actually pretty good.

But what about those times, rare though they might be, where a decision turns out not to be the right decision? Well, according to an informal survey that I just made up:

  • 87% of the time the consequences are so minor that few people, if any, will even notice.
  • 7% of the time you’ll have to say, “Well, I screwed up.” Then you dust yourself off, add it to the “experience” list, and move on.
  • 5% of the time it will be a major mistake and you’ll lose a bunch of money and/or your job. Then you dust yourself off (it’ll take longer this time), add it to the “experience” list, and move on.
  • 1% of time it will be catastrophic and the world will implode into the nothingness of a black hole, in which case it really doesn’t matter anymore, does it?

So yes, hope for Plan A. But, as a leader, the more important skill is to become an expert in Plan B.

Now it’s your turn. Was there a time when, as a leader, you had to make A decision not knowing if it was THE RIGHT decision? How did it turn out? Please tell us about it in the comments section below. Your experience will help other leaders. Thanks!


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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