NOVEMBER 16, 2023

As a leader, your toughest test is making hard decisions in times of uncertainty.

What you do then defines:

  • Your Future
  • Your organization’s Future.
  • The relationships you build with the people who work with you.

When times are good, decisions are easy. When consequences are minimal, there is no need to think twice.

But flip it all around, and you see a radically different process: Good times turn bad, easy decisions are now hard, there are consequences for everyone involved, and you…FREEZE.

You don’t know what to do, so you avoid making the decision itself.

In an organisation, there’s a wide spectrum of hard decisions:

  • Should I tell my employees about the budget cuts?
  • How can I be assertive and clear without coming off as arrogant and ignorant?
  • Can I ask that underperforming employee to step up without hurting him?

These are just a few but they capture the essence of difficult decisions in the perfect way.

The reason why some decisions are hard is not that the options are too confusing, but that leaders are too worried about the negative consequences and perceptions they’ll have to deal with.

This fear paralyses your thought process. You either make decisions too hastily and hurt the people and organisation you value so dearly. Or, you keep avoiding the decision until you have no choice, and end up hurting people in a way that’s way worse than what you feared initially.


As a leader, that should be the only thing you avoid.

How can you make tough decisions assertively and also empower your people and organisation?

There are three simple steps:

  1. High Stakes Decisions Bring Complex Emotions to the forefront, Welcome Them: Emotions are a critical part of all decision making—no matter how hard we try to avoid them. With small and inconsequential decisions, the emotions that follow are simple and clear. On the flip side, with tough decisions emotions are complex and come from a lot of people. You have to embrace them. That’s the only way to break them down, and figure out which feelings, intents, and thought processes are affecting your decision making. With a clear and sorted look at the emotions playing around you, the decisions you make become clear too.
  2. Stop hiding behind the curtain of, “I’m trying to be considerate and fair.” A ten year study done by Ron Carucci at Navalent reveals that 57% of new executives said that decisions were more complicated than what they expected. They found out that it’s not that easy to be considerate at all times and also make the right calls. The thought of damaging their image or their relationships with those they lead is so paralysing that no calls are made—at least not the right ones. Making the right ones can hurt people in the moment, but leads to better results for everyone. Make peace with that fact.
  3. Think in probabilities, not in absolutes. Yes, dream big. Set the goals that feel impossible and give your all to achieve them. But also realise that as a leader, your choices and decisions defines the future of a lot of people, not only you. That’s why you must be comfortable with the possibility of being wrong—a lot of times. Thinking in probabilities is the best way to make that happen. Instead of declaring, “We will sell three times of what we did last quarter.” say, “Let’s target sales of three times what we did last quarter. What are the ways to make that happen?” With this statement, you open the floor to new ideas and also make sure that everyone—including you—is thinking in probabilities, with comfort in the idea of failure and efforts to tilt the forces to success.

Being an effective leader does not demand a lot from you, except a strong decision-making process that’s unwavering and practical. I hope you found ways to make that happen through this post today.

I would love to know, how you make decisions in times of uncertainty and what according to you makes an effective leader.