As a leader, have you ever struggled with a decision?
If you lead or have ever led anything, the answer is unequivocally “yes.” Making decisions is crucial to leading. Making decisions is an inseparable part of leadership. Leaders who cease to made decisions abdicate their leadership.
Of course, some decisions are obvious, some are more challenging, and some are absolutely daunting. The decisions leaders face during times of transitions, whether personal or organizational, are often the most difficult. The reason is simple:
Transitions bring cloudy conditions.
Great decisions are only possible when we have clarity — clarity of the situation, problem, possible solutions, and ramifications. Clarity is essential, but as every leader knows, when seasons give way to what’s next, the transition creates conditions that work directly against clear decisions.
Transitions are cloudy because they happen between what is known and what is next. What is known is often clear, but what’s next is typically new. New always has an element of unknown, and unknown is often unclear. It’s like driving our car into a dense fog. When you can barely see, it makes driving nearly impossible. If the fog grows dense enough, moving forward ceases to be a viable option.
In our car, we can always pull over and wait out the fog. But as a leader, waiting out the transition isn’t an option. And hence our decision dilemma:
How do we make great decisions in cloudy conditions?
Before we answer that question, we should acknowledge that these transition decisions are often the most important decisions we as leaders make. Both an unfortunate, yet true reality. When there is change and transition, the organization and the people therein look to leadership for stability and direction. The decisions we make during these transitions set the pace, tone, and direction for the next season. These decisions are critical. And they are uncomfortable. Because they are so cloudy.
As you’ve probably seen, too often leaders facing transition decision freeze in the face of the cloudy conditions. The clouds reduce their clarity causing them to do nothing. It’s as if they think it’s possible to wait out the fog on the side of the road. But not making a decision is a decision — an often disastrous decision. Transitions are by nature movement oriented, therefore decisions must be made for the transition to complete and the next season to begin. The other option is to make our best guess in the face of the fog. But this isn’t a better option, either. Guessing certainly doesn’t position you in the best position. Nobody wants to depend on luck for leadership success.
So back to the key question; as a leader, how do we make great decisions in cloudy conditions?
The answer is trusting in outside counsel.
But it’s not quite that simple. When we are in the middle of the transitional clouds, not only is our decision making obscured — so is our decision to trust. Those outside our transition will have a clarity we don’t have. Finding wise counsel is the easy part. The challenge is trusting what the counsel is seeing even when we can’t see it ourselves. The clouds inhibit our ability to see clearly, both the decisions we are facing and what the counsel is seeing. And that’s why simply having wise counsel isn’t enough.
We know this is true because we can all remember times when we had incredible clarity in the midst of another’s cloudy. We offered our clarity and even attempted to explain our view, but the person overwhelmed by the cloud couldn’t see clearly to decide on their own or to trust what you were seeing.
We have to fight against becoming the person in the cloud refusing to trust or listen to the counsel of those outside of our cloud.
Our first step as a leader is to ensure we have trustworthy coaches who understand us and our organization before we need their coaching. Secondly, we must build trust with these coaches before we find ourselves surrounded by a cloud of confusion. We prepare now for what we will need later. Third, we need to pre-decide that when we are in the middle of cloudy conditions, we will trust those outside the fog with clarity — even when we can’t see what they see ourselves.
So, who are your coaches? If you don’t have any, make it a point to find them sooner than later. And when you do, begin to build trust. You, and all those you lead, will appreciate your intentionality when the clouds of transition form around your next big leadership decision.
How do we know who the right coaches are?