Courageous Decision Making: Quit Being a Wimp and Lead!

By Mike Figliuolo

Waaah. The economy. Waaaaah. Boo hoo. Woe is me.

Stop. Right now. Stop.

Tough times like these demand leadership. I’m sick of hearing how organizations are “hunkering down” until the storm passes. Guess what people? It won’t start to pass until leaders like you make decisions that take us toward a solution.

Of course, there’s a balance between being conservative in case the environment worsens and making bold decisions and taking on their associated risks. My argument is simply that we’re doing all of the former and very little of the latter.

The fix to all of this begins with you. The leader. Everyone (your team, your peers, your boss, your business partners, your competitors) is looking at you to see what you’re doing and how you’re acting in this environment. It’s the business equivalent of monkey see, monkey do. If the monkey sees you hiding under the banana tree, they’re going to hide too.

Why is this so important? Because courageous organizations who are aggressive when others are scared are the ones that will kick everyone’s butt when things get better. We’ve told you before that as a leader you have to make decisions (the 4 D’s of decision making) and doing nothing is not an option.

So how do you snap out of the funk? Three steps.

The Only FUD You Should Tolerate is Elmer

FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) can wreak havoc on an organization. It’s paralyzing. Think about why you’re still afraid of the dark (c’mon, admit it). It’s because you don’t know what’s in that big scary walk-in closet at your McMansion. But when you flip on the lights, things are all better.

Your organization is looking at the market as a big dark scary room. Your job is to flip on the lights. How, you ask? Do a fact-based and practical risk assessment. Get everyone in a room and get all their fears and nightmare scenarios listed on the whiteboard. From there, systematically analyze each risk in terms of both impact and probability. This exercise will help turn on the lights and show the folks around you that there aren’t as many realistic bogeymen hiding in the closet. Once you reduce the real fear, it becomes easier to act (and focus on Elmer Fudd who is the coolest hunter EVER).

Get Amped Up and Make a Bet

Being pragmatically aggressive pays off. It’s a mindset. Figure out where to summon that energy and drive forward. For me, I constantly remind myself to be aggressive every day. I’m sitting here as I write this listening to some seriously headbanging heavy metal (Pantera, Megadeth, Prong, Metallica, Helmet, Rammstein — if anyone wants this playlist, just e-mail me — it WILL fire you up). Why do I do this? Because it gets me excited and in the right mindset to take action (I used to listen to the same stuff before a wrestling match — talk about needing to be aggressive … ). Regardless of whether it’s metal, working out, or jacking some Mountain Dew, whatever you do to get amped up, do it. Inspire yourself to act.

Look at all the initiatives and projects you’re waiting to do. Pick one. Do it. That’s right — I’m asking you as a leader to act. Don’t be a moron and pick the biggest, riskiest one on the list. But do be brave enough to pick one that’s not a total slam dunk.

We just did this at my firm. Sure it would be easy to hunker down and conserve cash. The problem is there’s no cash to conserve if we’re not selling. Given that, we spent a decent chunk of change putting on an event for all our clients, prospects, and friends of our firm. It was big enough that the check was painful to write but not so big that it would crater the company. Guess what? Good things are happening because we took that risk.

As you look objectively at your list of things you can do, which one do you know is a good bet? Make it. You’re a leader. A big part of a leader’s job is managing risk. It’s also generating upside. You can’t win if you don’t play. Get aggressive and take action.

Realize That Acting Now Means Winning Later

People constantly ask me “How’s business?” My response? “AWESOME!” They then say “But you’re a training company. Isn’t training the first thing that gets cut in a tough environment?”

My response? “Leading companies ALWAYS invest in their people regardless of the environment.” It’s easy to say people are your greatest resource. It’s an entirely different thing to act on that. Look at our client list: Abbott, Oracle, Nationwide, Cardinal Health, Heinz, Bain Capital, and others. What do they have in common? They’re all leaders in their industries. Why are they leaders? BECAUSE THEY MAKE SMART INVESTMENTS AND TAKE RISKS EVEN DURING TOUGH TIMES! Oh, that’s right. I just used an exclamation point. I went there and for those of you who know me well, I NEVER go there unless it’s warranted.

Yes, taking those risks requires intestinal fortitude. On the back end, however, those bets pay off for these leaders. While everyone else is emerging from hunkering down and beginning to figure out what initiatives to pursue, these leaders have been ACTING for months. They’re way ahead in the race. They make it hard to catch up to them.

Act. This applies whether you’re a Fortune 100 or an entrepreneur. Leaders in the race never slow down. Sure they can be cautious as they navigate tricky patches but they never stop running. They make it hard for the competition to catch them and they look to extend their lead when their competitors slow down.

In short — get off the dime and lead. Eliminate fear and uncertainty. Make a bet. Build and extend your lead by focusing on the long term. I know this post is a little in your face. You’re not here for me to be nice to you. You’re here because you know I’m going to shoot straight and push you to lead. Now go do it.

What are you doing now to make your organization better tomorrow? What have you seen be successful during tough times? Please share!

Mike Figliuolo is the author of “One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership.” He’s the managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC — a leadership development firm. An honor graduate from West Point, he served in the U.S. Army as a combat arms officer. Before founding his own company, he was an assistant professor at Duke University, a consultant at McKinsey & Co., and an executive at Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He regularly writes about leadership on the thoughtLEADERS Blog, read the full original post here.
Originally published: Sep 24, 2011

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