Itchy trigger fingers Featured

12:14pm EDT May 24, 2006

CEOs are not hired to make decisions for the businesses they run. Rather, they are hired to make good decisions that lead to positive outcomes for those companies.

Wall Street’s gutters are littered with the remains of CEOs whose lousy decisions led to the downfall of their companies. Too often, it wasn’t an inability to decide upon an issue that led to the problems but an inability to make good decisions regarding that issue. Simply put, bad decisions lead to bad outcomes.

Decisiveness is a critical skill that any competent leader must possess, but success is contingent upon the number of good decisions outweighing the number of bad ones.

Being decisive can be deceiving. If you’re too decisive, you risk being impetuous, and impetuous leaders can do just as much damage as those who simply makes bad decisions over and over. That’s because you can avoid being impetuous — it’s a behavior rather than a mindset.

A smart CEO stops and thinks before reacting, taking time to process the issue and weigh the pros and cons of each side. They consider the risk/reward ratio before committing and recognize that a big upside with little downside is an easy decision to make, while those that contain great risk if something goes awry deserve more careful consideration.

Walking this fine decision-making line isn’t easy. Society moves quickly, and people demand answers faster than ever.

But great leaders don’t give in to the pressure and that they deftly manage that tenuous balance among thoughtful decision-making, impetuousness and indecisiveness. They also realize that if you take too much time to weigh the issues, you’ll find yourself unable to decide on anything.

For those who fall into that trap, climbing out is difficult. The public is quick to label an overly thoughtful leader or someone who relies too heavily on consensus-building as indecisive or weak.

With your business career riding on the decisions you and you alone make, it’s no wonder that great CEOs often quip that it’s lonely at the top. As for the others, those who have itchy trigger fingers too often shoot first and ask questions later, which is a guaranteed recipe for failure.