One characteristic of good leadership is being decisive. We ask our leaders to make decisions and depending upon our perspective, often give them permission to do so. They are in charge, so they should make the decisions. At the same time, we routinely second guess those decisions, agree or disagree as to their effectiveness, and declare we would have done it “x” way, after the fact. It’s easy to be the “Monday morning quarterback” when all the facts are in. It’s not so easy before it all unfolds.
A leader is often in the position of having to make tough choices. Ones that will not be popular and might even be reviled by some. When announcing a decision or taking an action, the real leader owns it. They make the decision public or known to their constituency and they take the heat. A real leader will explain what went into to the decision and to the best of their ability that they did what they thought was right for the greater good. Most leaders agonize over these types of decisions. It pains them that there might be negative consequences as a result of their actions. They are anguished but resolute.
What they do not do is have someone else make the announcement of their decision when it’s controversial or unpopular. That shows a level of cowardice unbecoming of a leader. My advice to businesses leaders I work with is that if you can’t stand up in front of your employees and tell them what you have decided, you may need to rethink your decision. Leadership is not about being the most popular kid in class, it’s about doing the right thing and owning it all the way. If you’ve been elected, appointed or self-anointed to a leadership position, it’s not about you. It’s about the purpose, mission or goals of the organization. All decisions should take the bigger picture and possible consequences on the group into consideration before the personal needs of the leader.
This does not mean that the leader needs to fall on a sword or become the victim sacrificing all for the greater good. The leader needs to be thoughtful, take all points-of-view into consideration, and do what’s best for all. Politicians are the worst at only taking ownership of a decision when it’s popular (even when it wasn’t their decision). But good politicians know that you will not always be popular and your decisions may get you voted out of office, and they will also be able to sleep at night knowing they kept their integrity.
Business leaders are no different. Leadership is not a popularity contest. It’s about helping the organization and the people to achieve amazing things, to be profitable, sustainable, and a place whose products and people are admired. It’s simple but never easy. Good business leaders take ownership for their decisions, cowards let others deliver the message.