Making Tough Decisions

There are times when you have to make a difficult call. It is an important part of the senior leadership role, to make big decisions that have potentially lasting ramifications. Making tough decisions is not easy, but there are some techniques that can help. Ed Gillcrist is a CEO and former marine he applies his military training to structured decision making.


  • An obligation of the role – leadership requires tough decisions to be made. When you stepped up, you accepted the responsibility.
  • It is not going away – hoping that the hard call, can be made by someone else. Or that it will quietly go away is not leadership. Effective leadership takes ownership.
  • Moral courage – it is often not easy, not pleasant. But if it is the right thing to do, then summon the courage and get on with it.
  • Experience makes the process easier – a hard decision, is not going to get easier just because you have been through the process before. However the experience will make it easier to know what to do and provide confidence in what you have to do.

“make the hard right, rather than the easy wrong decision”


  • Why it is difficult? – start by breaking down why this decision is difficult. When you consider what are your underlying concerns and motivations, it becomes easier to process the decision through a series of logical assumptions. When you know your triggers, you can learn to manage them.
  • Know the environment and influencing factors – break down factors influencing the decision. Consider urgency, culture, expectations and any other circumstances. As the leader you should already master the process that needs to be applied and those steps should be taken into account.
  • Use peer advisors – make sure you have trusted peer advisors who you can tap into for support on difficult choices. Knowing who can help you with advice, and potentially provide relevant insight and opinion.
  • Be clear on the impact – every decision has cause and effect. You need to understand who is impacted and how. When a difficult decision is weighed up, it is important that to consider the impact on the organisation, the community and employees. When you look at both the benefits and the impacts you can provide a balanced decision.
Tough Decisions - post it notes
Image Credit: Kelly Sekkemer Unsplash


  • Don’t panic – When faced with a tough decision it is understandable to get anxious. However “the greater the anxiety, the less effective your decision making will likely be“. The best way to deal with anxiety is to recognise potential triggers and managing it so that it doesn’t escalate to panic.
  • Bring clarity – When a decision arises, the leader needs to peel back the issues and be confident that they understand underlying root causes. By understanding the real problem you can gauge “the real magnitude of the problem and decision you are faced with”.
  • Weigh and balance: ensure you are clear on all of the facts and assumptions that lead to making a decision. Finally consider the timing of the decision and any impacts it might have by making it a formal decision now or later. All of those considerations enable the leader to balance and make the best informed structured decisions.
DIGEST from Fast Company
The 3 steps to making tough decisions—bold advice from an ex-Marine officer
By Ed Gillcrist
Published: 3rd December 2020

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