Leadership Question #2: What Are the Most Important Leadership Decisions

Continuing in my series of “20 Leadership Questions,” we come to the second question that Michael Smith asked when he interviewed me. This one is particularly important. It has huge implications for your organization—especially for the culture you are trying to build.

Signpost with Decision, Right, and Wrong - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/RTimages, Image #5734511

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/RTimages

Michael asked,

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?”

As leaders, you and I are called upon to make hundreds if not thousands of decisions over the course of a year. A few are monumental. Some are consequential. Most are trivial. However, I would boil down the most important decisions I make into three categories:

  1. Vision. Having a clear vision is essential to your organization’s health. Your organization exists to get something done. Your job is to take it somewhere. If you aren’t clear about the destination, you are going to end up lost—or, at best, side-tracked. As I have written before, what you want to accomplish is more important than how you do it. You must figure out the vision, before you can determine the strategy.
  2. Strategy. By emphasizing vision, I am not suggesting that strategy is unimportant. Strategy is critical. How you get from point A (where you are now) to Point B (where you want to be) is vitally important. Picking the right path is the essence of strategic thinking. The best strategies achieve the vision with the least amount of risk and in the most economical, efficient manner possible.
  3. People. As Jim Collins as pointed out in Good to Great, leaders are responsible for getting “the right people on the bus.” In fact you could make the argument that these decisions are the most important decisions you can make. If you have the right people, they will figure out the right vision and the right strategy. I don’t want to quibble; these are all important decisions. But I believe vision and the strategy determine what kind people you need.

As the head of an organization, I don’t need to be involved in every decision. In fact, if I insist on doing so, I will only bog the organization down and discourage the incredibly bright and cable people who work for me.

But when it comes to vision, strategy, or key positions, I insist on being involved. To do less is to abdicate my role as a leader.

Question: what are the most important decisions you make as the leader of your organization?
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  • http://www.validleadership.com James

    Tough, but excellent question. I would say the most important decision I have to make is who I allow to join our team. Hiring the wrong people can be disastrous.

    • http://www.therextras.com BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

      Agreeing – 'get the right people on the bus' as Jim Collier says in his book.

  • http://geoffreywebb.com Geoff Webb

    I’m loving this series already, Mike.

    Your big three are right on. The decisions I’d add are the key operational choices that keep my firm on strategy and heading toward our vision. Do we go after this job? Do we really want to work with this client? How does this initiative fit who we are and what we do?

    As a big picture guy it’s downhill for me to envision and strategize. But it’s also my responsibility to make sure we stay on track in spite of all the temptations to choose differently in the moment.

  • http://www.danieldecker.net Daniel Decker

    In my sphere of influence, one of the most important decisions I make is to practice THE POWER of PROACTIVE COMMUNICATION. Goes hand in hand with the items you listed above, especially VISION and STRATEGY, since each is worthless if not properly communicated. These items have to be continually communicated with others in order to keep them focused and reminded of the WHAT (Vision) and HOW (Strategy).

    One of my favorite quotes is "Where there is a void, negativity will fill it." Unfortunately people often assume the worst sometimes when they are not properly communicated with. That has huge implications on the morale and direction of a team.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

      I love that quote, Daniel. (I'm going to post that on my wall) That is SO true. It's amazing what people come up with when there is NO communication. I think it comes down to, "The curse of knowledge." The leader knows in his mind that there is no problem implementing a new product, but the employees cannot see what is in the leaders mind… unless he communicates it. Fear of change develops and even the smallest glitch can balloon into a negative complaint session. Putting yourself in the seat of the employee can really make all the difference. Communication and training are vital to any organization.

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/danieldeckernet Daniel Decker

        Agreed John. You're right on with my sentiment. The leader is driving the bus but he/she is often the only one with a clear view through the windshield of the destination ahead. If he/she does not communicate the direction then the passengers get antsy.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I really agree on the importance of communication. I spend a tone of time on that myself.

      I also think it's true that its absence, people create their own story about why things are happening.

      • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/kcroy kcroy

        So true!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    From my experience, Michael, I would say the best decisions come from the experience of learning from mistakes. That is why it is so important to have great mentors. People who have been on the front lines. People who have failed, yet picked themselves up and pressed on.

    In my field of technology, it's important to choose the right products and technology platforms. The old adage that "no one ever got fired for buying HP printers" is a good one. Yet even more important is choosing the right people. In our school district its a lot easier to change a defective product than it is to fire someone who isn't right for the job.

    Your point number three is so important. You have to have the right people in the job and then the leader must communicate the vision and let the people run with it. Trust is so important. As a leader, if you can't trust your people, you end up doing the job yourself… and 16 hour days are really no fun at all.

  • http://ithouttheBiblicalGodarenotdestinedforgreatnessunlessGodbuildsthebussinessororganizationweworkinvain.LetGodbetheinspirationan Israel

    Vision,strategy and the right people(including mentors,coaches and visionaries and implementers included)are not destined for greatnes unless the biblical God builds your organization or your bussiness

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      No argument here.

  • http://www.yuzzi.com Rick Yuzzi

    Great post and comments. Hiring the right people is definitely key. I had a boss that would emphasize in every company-wide meeting four characteristics that he wanted to see in every person there and every person hired. He pounded into our heads with the acronym P.A.W.L, so I still remember it. Passion, Attitude, Work-ethic, Loyalty.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/BLichtenwalner BLichtenwalner

    I agree these are probably the top 3. For what it's worth I would put People first though. In the classic buggy whip manufacturer example, the right people would set the vision to get out of the buggy whip business and into the broader transportation business. The wrong people could result in the wrong vision and strategy.

    That said, it is, of course, a bit of the chicken and egg dilemma. A great post, as always. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.kellycroy.com Kelly Croy

    The most important decision I make as a leader is determining who I allow to influence me. A leader should seek wisdom through the counsel of others, books, experiences, and travels. All of these influence decisions. Right from wrong is easier to determine from wise and unwise, so a leader must be really careful from whom he allows to influence his decisions. A current and unfortunate leadership trend seems to be ‘hurry and do things differently’ rather than waiting and determining what will have the best impact. There is a lot of solid advice out there, but not all of it is applicable to every situation. A leader must make that call.

  • http://www.thefivedomains.com/ Darren Paul Shearer

    One of my greatest leadership challenges is deciding to see the people, not just as they are, but as they can be.

  • http://www.mackrillmedia.com Jud Mackrill

    I believe that you hit the nail on the head. Vision, Strategy and People are the critical focuses for the direction and momentum of any organization. Collier's right persons in the right seats idea has been inspiration both in my own life and in my leadership decisions.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/theresaipfroehlich theresaipfroehlich

    Indeed, vision tops all leadership decisions. It gives the organization a destination to aim for. Your previous post in Feb 2007 amplifies this very well. I would say, however, vision is not always an individual's vision. Often it is the product that results from listening to, consulting with and collaborating with a broad representation of stakeholders. Just a few days ago, I went to hear a live interview of Carol Bartz, the Yahoo CEO. She spent two solid months in 45-minute listening sessions when she began at Yahoo.
    Thank you, Michael, for sharing so much of your insights.

  • http://davidbmclaughlin.com davidbmc

    I think you have hit the most important thing which is connecting to them. IF we do not connect to what others are passionate about they will not care. I believe there is a continuum of disinterest to interest that gets stronger where inspiration is not as strong as motivation which is not as strong as passion. Connect to their passion and they are hooked.

  • http://twitter.com/obihaive @obihaive

    Is it just me or does it seem there aren't really that many resources regarding implementing strategy. Anyone know of any? There are a lot of books that talk about the need for vision, teamwork, purpose etc..But I can't think of anyone who really talks about doing strategy. That's something I'd really like to look into more.