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Tough decisions are a part of business. While most days go by in a haze of moderate activity, sometimes you are up against the wall. There is a decision in which someone or something will be damaged, hurt or destroyed. There are going to be winners and losers. And the decision falls to you.

So how do you make these tough decisions? How do you avoid bad decisions? There may be a framework of precedence or policies and procedures that set a specific direction. But not all decisions fall easily into that framework.

Tough decisions frequently fall into the vast fog of uncertainty. Things aren’t exactly like they are portrayed in the policy manual. There are extenuating circumstances, which no one could have predicted. And emotions are running high.

Tough decisions are exceptions. There are no set answers, no formula that will magically resolve the issues so that everyone is guaranteed to live happily ever after. An effective leader makes the tough decisions.

As the decision-maker, where do you begin?

  • First, step away from the emotional whirlpool. It’s easier said than done, but emotional turmoil is not your friend.
  • Second, ask questions. Ask a lot of questions and dig deep. What exactly is the issue? What specifically do people want, and why? If people are angry, what are the underlying causes? Get all sides of the story, directly from the key players.
  • Third, look for the small truths. Are there policies and procedures that need to be amended? Are there misunderstandings that can be corrected?
  • Fourth, explore alternatives. Are there viable options for compromise? Can other resources be brought in to resolve the issue?
  • Fifth, assess the impact of alternatives. Are the options moral and ethical? Are you setting a sustainable precedent? What is the collateral benefit, and what is the collateral damage? Is your final choice the best you can do?

Living the new order

Make the best decision you can. It may not be perfect, but in many cases, there is no perfect answer. Communicate the decision with those involved. If there are key points that were not resolved exactly as they wished, acknowledge those, and describe how those individuals might work within the established framework.

Once the decision is made, delivered and implemented, move on. Prolonging the drama and endlessly revisiting the decision is a recipe for festering frustration.

Be ready for backlash. Some individuals or groups may reject the decision and choose to go out in a blaze of glory and disruption. There may be a voluntary or involuntary separation. This is a reality that in some cases is unavoidable, for the good of the whole.

Know the battle you are fighting. Be aware of the impact of your decisions. Go for the sustainable win, and not just the short-term fix.

As a leader, making the tough decisions goes with the territory. Be thoughtful, be wise, and lead with success.