Five Questions to Help Make a Tough Decision

by Tom Koulopoulos

Five Questions to Help Make a Tough DecisionWhen you’re making a tough decision it’s easy to let the wind take you for a ride. Try this instead.

Leading is mostly about making decisions. Sometimes you have the wind to your back and those decisions are easy, but in most cases the wind pushes against you, making decisions anything but easy.

The same applies in our personal lives. Decisions are tough, rarely clear-cut, and often made with less than perfect information.

So, is there a formula for making decisions? There are probably as many formulas as there are leaders but my own five-step model is fairly simple and while it’s not bulletproof it has served me well over the long-term.

When you’re making a tough decision ask yourself these five questions:

1. Are you doing what you will be proud of having done when you look back?

Sounds simple, right? But here’s the thing. When you frame a decision in that light you then start to look at not only what the decision is but how it’s being made. In my own life and in the work I’ve done with countless CEOs what has always made an impression on me is that the key to almost every decision ends up being getting people to understand why it’s being made and to accept that there is a rationale and/or a vision behind it. Most of us look to leaders to make decisions. We give them license to do so with the understanding that not every decision will be the right one but every decision will be made with the right intentions.

2. Does it reflect your values?

So, I’m going to make a few assumptions: you’re not a pathologic liar, narcissist, or otherwise unable to use core values to guide your actions; you also have some sort of moral core that you hold yourself accountable to. If either of those does not apply then let’s face it you don’t really give a darn about any of this.

“Whatever the source of your moral compass, follow it through the fog.”

For the rest of us our values need to be the foundation of our decisions. Be clear on those values, speak them honestly, and live by them. They may stem from a sense of moral absolutes, your cultural heritage, family values, or your faith. Trust me, the founder doesn’t exist who has not at least once been on his or her knees praying to make payroll–even the atheists and agnostics find religion in those moments! Whatever the source of your moral compass, follow it through the fog.

3. Have you accepted the consequences of failure?

There will be proponents and opponents of every decision you make. Otherwise it’s not a decision it’s a fact. Understand the unpleasant and perhaps flawed consequences of your decision and be prepared to live with them. Regrets are horrid bedfellows. So, think carefully about what it will mean to make a bad call and be ready to own it. You’re the leader because you’re at the top of the accountability food chain.

“There will be proponents and opponents of every decision you make. Otherwise it’s not a decision it’s a fact.”

4. Are you being transparent and authentic about the reasons behind your decision?

We’ve all been in situations where somebody makes a decision that impacts us with the hope that it will just sort of slide through, unnoticed. Nothing is more damaging to an organization or the relationships and trust that leaders rely on. Do this and you are showing fear and a distinct lack of confidence in yourself and your choices. No, that’s not a good way to inspire people to follow you. I’ve had people tell me that they would follow their leader into hell and back because they so respect their ability to be transparent and authentic. Others have told me they wouldn’t want to share a cab ride with their leader. Which of those two leaders do you want to be?

“I’ve had people tell me that they would follow their leader into hell and back… Others have told me they wouldn’t want to share a cab ride with their leader. Which of those two leaders do you want to be?”

5. Have you flipped a coin?

Ok, now this one sounds as though it is just bogus, but stick with me for a minute.

I recall reading an article sometime ago about a fellow whose job it was to prevent jumpers off of the Golden Gate bridge (Just to be clear, these are suicide jumpers–although I think that’s the only kind of jumper in this case.) He’d scan the bridge and if he saw a jumper he’d first try to stop them and if that was unsuccessful he’d try to recover them. Very few people who make the 220 ft jump survive. But he said that every single one who was recovered alive shared a universal sentiment that the moment they stepped off the ledge they regretted having done so.

“…in that split second when the coin is tossed and it’s flipping heads over tails in the air, what is the path you would most want to take?”

Sometimes a decision is only real when it’s forced. On paper or a white board the pros and cons all look neat and tidy. You weigh things out, add up the columns of the ledger, and bam, you have a decision. But numbers, and even logic, can be made to justify just about any bad decision. However, in that split second when the coin is tossed and it’s flipping heads over tails in the air, what is the path you would most want to take? Intuition is an amazing thing, but only if you follow it.

It’s always a choice

In the end every decision is a choice. Some of those choices alter the course of our lives or our business forever. In that moment you can take your hands off the wheel and let the wind take you where it may or you can tack and jibe to chart your own course.

Either way accept that YOU are the one making the choice, not the wind.

This article was originally published on Inc.

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Thomas KoulopoulosTom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.