Being a leader

Making hard decisions means you don’t always get what you want

For years I have joked with staff members that “things would be a lot different around here if I was in charge.”

The truth is, of course, that I am in charge. But that doesn’t mean I always get my way. Not that I even want that. The worst thing that could happen in any shop is for one person at the top to always get their way. One person is never right 100 percent of the time, and having to run everything by one person is no way to get things done.

Now, the people around a leader might think they get their way all the time. They’ll certainly blame leaders as if they do. It comes with the territory. But good leaders will tell you that they regularly make decisions for the good of the company that they themselves don’t like one bit.

When businesses were ordered to close at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world was awash in fear and uncertainty. But I knew the Foodbank was going to remain open. I told my team out of the gate that I would sooner be hauled away by the authorities than I would order everyone home and shut down the Foodbank, not because I wasn’t scared for my people or myself, but because we had a job to do and a duty to fulfill. It was literally the only thing to do. Yet I hated knowing my people would be at risk. I still worry about them every day.

Leaders are frequently placed in situations where doing the right thing comes with real-world risks for the people in your care. Decision-making is a leader’s job, and the best leaders are the ones who gather as much information and advice on major decisions as possible, often setting their own preferences aside, to make the right decisions for the company. Not always getting what you want, yet still being responsible for and resolving to accept the consequences of a decision, is the price of effective leadership.

A lot of people want to be the one making decisions and even more are willing to second guess decisions that are made. I was one of them. Early in my career, I hectored leaders for making bad decisions, convinced that if I was ever in a leadership job, I would do better. My inexperience led me to believe that leaders were the ones getting their way, and that appealed to my ego. Now, I have come to see my attitude then as a byproduct of how shielded I was from the reality of the decision-making process.

As a leader, when tough decisions have to be made, you will always get better outcomes if you use all the time you have to get input and advice. When you make a decision, be conscious of where you are on it personally and make sure your convictions will not prevent you from seeing it through.

If you get lobbied by your team to do something you don’t want to do, doing it might just save the company. You need to have the humility to accept that there is sometimes a difference between what you want and what’s right for the enterprise. In those situations, don’t be a drag on the team after the decision is made. Remember that.

Finally, when you communicate your decisions to the company, do your best to articulate the range of opinions that exist on the issue. Make sure they know you did the work and sought to understand a diversity of perspectives. Explain the full range of thought you encountered in your decision-making process and why the course is the one you believe is best.

This will give them confidence in you as a thoughtful person and help them see that you’re not entertaining your ego at the company’s expense. Most important, it’s OK to share how conflicted and even unsure you might have been on an issue. Let them know if you’ve labored to find what’s right, or how much it pains you to do what you have to do. Decisions should be painful at times. They have consequences.

Dan Flowers is president and CEO of the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank