In last week’s blog, I wrote about how the ability to handle dilemmas versus problems is what separates leaders from managers. When it comes to dilemmas, there will be those extremely difficult times in which you will be very unsure of what decision to make and direction to take. You will because every option will have its pros and cons. Regardless what decision you make, people will be adversely affected. As a result, you know you will be second-guessed time the pain starts to be felt. Gathering more information also won’t provide any greater insights.
In these situations, leaders have to go from trying to figure it out in their heads to figuring it out in their hearts. Specifically, you will have to let your faith (core values) be your guide. Needless to say, it is far easier said than done because, at best, you will have a 50% chance of being right. Get ready because you will be faced with these situations both professionally and personally.
The toughest decision I’ve had to make professionally was determining whether to recommend either implementing a new system or trying to make an existing one work. I was a systems analyst at the time. My boss, his boss, and his boss’s boss all wanted a new system. Several of the key business people also wanted a new system because the existing one had developed such a bad reputation. In my research, I saw where other large companies were successfully using the existing system. As was one of our business units; however, because it was in one of our field locations, the fact that they were successfully using the system didn’t have much sway. The answer on which way to go was clear to others but not to me.
The night before the meeting with all of the executives to decide how to move forward, I went into my quiet place so that I could listen to my heart. I knew that if I recommended not going with the new system, it would be career suicide because it would be against the chain of command’s wishes. I was faced with an additional complexity because I knew the system worked for 60% of the processes, but didn’t know if it could work for the other 40%. Lastly, I also knew, despite all of the hype, the new system option didn’t work as fully advertised. Career wise, I could have played it safe and recommended the new system. It would have taken two years before people realized it didn’t fully work, and I would have been on to bigger and better things by then. Another option was I could have not made a recommendation and let the VPs make the decision.
In my quiet time, I immediately thought about my core belief of: “In times of uncertainty, anchor on the knowns.” When we walked into the meeting the next day, I knew all eyes were on me. The senior people began by stating their positions, including my boss and his boss. The business VP who was ultimately responsible for the function the system supported turned to me and asked, “James, what is your recommendation?” My moment of truth had come. I said we should stick with the existing system and stated the reasons why. If looks could kill, I would be dead by how my boss gave me the evil eye. Surprisingly, the VP went with my recommendation. I was immediately a pariah within the IT organization. When we started having issues getting the 40% to work, I started getting second-guessed by the business, but not by the VP. I was working long nights and weekends trying to figure out how to get it to work. The VP would just walk by, smile, and say, “Hang in there.” My breakthrough came on a Saturday night. We finally figured it out! I got promoted into the business and went on to become its general manager.
My lesson learned from that experience is your head will sometimes look for the path of least resistance; whereas your heart, your core beliefs, will sometimes take you into the path of most resistance—right into the center of a storm. When that happens, rest assured that you will weather the storm and the headwinds will become tailwinds. In addition, people will follow you because of your core values and trust in you before there is tangible proof.
In closing, when making very tough decisions, what’s in your heart matters more than what’s in your head. Take comfort in knowing your core beliefs will bring clarity when there is uncertainty; cause you to roll up your sleeves and put your faith into action; and allow you to be successful when you put yourself at risk instead of playing it safe.