January 25, 2023

Dealing with tough (very tough) decisions

Dealing with seriously tough stuff

“I wish I'd done it sooner!”

Every now and then we have to deal with a very hard decision that challenges us in a lot of ways – whether it is personal, business, staff or strategic – we feel stretched to our limits. It’s tough really, really tough.

No, we’re not talking about firing a difficult employee (although that can create a lot a personal angst for many), or a performance review that’s unfair or fair but poor, or even losing your job (while tough it’s not a decision you are making – what comes next can be tougher).

This is about the sort of challenge that comes out of left field, is totally outside your expertise, and you have no experience or knowledge to even begin addressing it – You Freeze – Complete Blank – What Next?

When that cold chill runs through you – am I up to this? – do I deserve to be in charge if I don’t immediately know what to do?

So here's my top tips for dealing with seriously tough stuff.

#1  Don't sweat the small stuff - and it's almost always all small stuff

If it’s a decision you have to make, do it, and don’t keep second guessing yourself, living with regret or re-living it.

You made a decision with the best knowledge you had at the time. Full Stop.

Things may have changed since then – don’t sweat it.

If you have to change or reverse course then do it – it’s better to keep moving, adapting and learning than to have frozen in place and do nothing in fear of making the wrong decision.

I have had facts put to me in court cases and stated I don’t and could never have believed that – then to be shown emails and documents I wrote many years before stating exactly that position – Shrug – well it was based on what I knew and believed at the time and was the best I could do with all available information then, things are different now.

#2  Take control and take advice

If you don’t know (and there’s no way you can be expected to know everything), find people you can trust who aren’t just trying to sell you an on-going problem so they can deliver you an on-going stream of advice.

Check and verify everything. Just because someone states something with great belief and lots of affirmations doesn’t mean they know anything relevant to your decision– test what they say, sense check it against the real world, apply common sense (which experts hate).

Remember – Common Sense is the least common thing in the World.

Confidence is not the same as Competence.

Everyone has an opinion - if you ask for it, you will get it, whether they have any knowledge or ability or background to provide advice.

Listen, check, then do it again.

Get right answers.

They are what you will be basing very important decisions on.

#3  Take power of "NO"

Most people are afraid to gove a firm NO.

People rush to us wanting a quick answer, giving a limited amount of information and wanting a quick and positive answer.

Remember your time is a very precious commodity.

Be fair but confident –

“if you need a quick answer now based on your absolute priority – Then the answer is No”.

If you would like to provide the information we all need to make a proper and informed decision then come back to me then and we can revisit it.”

After doing that once you will get far less urgent requests. Of course there are always times when we have to make quick decisions but in many instances it is the excuse of the lazy and the unprepared rather than the truly time sensitive request.

#4  "When everyone is thinking the same - someone's not thinking!"

The power of Group Think is Immense – this is where everyone plays it safe, spouts the same lines and stop thinking and challenging.

Don’t let others speak for you or make decisions for you – guard your independence fiercely. Listen, consult, question, assess, then decide and move on.

When you get an overly complex explanation from an advisor, a specialist or anyone outside your personal area of expertise then freely and liberally use the power of asking for a simple explanation. Keep asking until you do understand!

If they can’t simplify it then they aren’t that good – go ask someone else.

The smartest people can take a vastly complex issue and simplify it to the point where an intelligent but uniformed manager can understand the problem and not make the questioner feel stupid in the meantime – surround yourself with these people they are great in a team.

The insecure and second rate can only talk in complex buzzwords and prove they don’t really understand the core issues especially how they relate to your business – move on – Fast.

#5  Safe words

Playing it safe can be very dangerous.

Most people – particularly staff and Boards hate change.

They like things to stay the same so they don’t have to learn a new way and stretch themselves – because they may be seen to fail or they may not be as good as they would like to be.

This natural inertia against change is often considered to be risk averse – it’s not – a lack of change can be just as risky and a totally chaotic environment.

Don’t make a decision just because it offers the path of least resistance – people try to pass this off as being less risky, they will trot out all the excuses and weasel words – ultimately it’s not about risk to them it’s just easier, and we are naturally lazy beasts.

In business, we are always assessing risk as a core part of the role, don’t be afraid of risk – assess it, price it, value it, assess the downside but also assess the downside of doing nothing and the strength of your safety nets.

What’s safe is not necessarily the least risky, and what’s ‘best’ may or may not have real risk – you just have to exclude all the personal concerns from it.

#6  Change

In business things change all the time.  

What looks like a great solution one day, won’t be the next – or soon after that.

Accepting you were right at the time, but you are now wrong is tough, it knocks you back on your heals – and leads to more self-examination. When you don’t know, say so. When you want advice, information or input ask for it.

To just keep going when these setbacks hit is hard, but remember no-one has perfect knowledge or hindsight, we are all just doing our best with the information we have at the time – holding off and making no decision is likely to be far worse in the long run.

#7  Just do it

You need self-belief, a core of what you will and won’t do, what is right and wrong, what your business is - this isn’t about going with your “gut”.

It’s about not just taking the easy road and letting the loudest voice in the room, the most senior director or Chairman, the slickest presenter or the best salesman speak for you or make decisions for you.

You need to believe you can take control, chose a strategy, make a decision and meet the challenges.

Hoping for the best is not a strategy.

Additional must read: "Top 21 Biggest Challenges Tech Founders Face"

# Key takeways

After making a tough decision the main thing you will reflect on subsequently: "I wish I'd done it sooner"
  1. Don't sweat the small stuff - and its almost always all small stuff
  2. Take control and take advice
  3. the power of "NO"
  4. "When everyone is thinking the same - someone's not thinking!"
  5. Safe Words - playing it safe can be very dangerous
  6. Change
  7. Just do it

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