How To Avoid the Common Decision Disaster That Trips Up Leaders

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If you want to avoid a decision disaster, you need to be clear about who is holding the key.

As a leadership mentor told me years ago, “If you’re not clear who is supposed to be holding the decision key, things will get very fuzzy, very fast.”

Several years ago the organization I was with had partnered with another organization to present a leadership conference.

The schedule was set to go all day Friday and all day Saturday. But noticing that there was nothing scheduled on Friday evening, a leader from our partnering organization said we should program a concert for that time-slot.

I disagreed.

And there we stood; standing at the door of the decision, not sure who held the key. Who was supposed to make this decision? Neither one of us out-ranked the other. How were we to navigate this; flip a coin?

Ultimately I deferred and allowed our partner to program a concert for that evening. It turned out to be a disaster. It was very poorly planned and executed.

But the real learning happened Monday morning. The disaster had absolutely no lasting impact on our partner. But I was digging myself out of this mess for weeks afterwards.

Because at the end of the day, the programming for the entire conference, including Friday evening, was my accountability. Not his.

And because I held the accountability, I held the decision key. But I gave it away, and paid for it dearly.

I’m sure you’ve been in a similar situation. So how do you proceed when you’re reached an impasse?

1. Always be clear who holds the decision key

Whoever is ultimately responsible makes the call.

2.  Remember that you can’t share the key

As I’ve written before, there are no “team decisions”. One person makes the call, because one person is responsible.

3. Never give away the key

Just because someone demands the key is no reason to give it up.

4. Know that while key-holders should be collaborative, they ultimately stand alone when making the call

At the end of the day, leadership is all about making decisions. But before you can make the call you need clarity on whose call it is to make.

So take a lesson from my experience.

Because when you know you hold the decision key, leadership doors start to open. And you can avoid those decision disasters.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.

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