Resistance to making important, game changing strategic decisions is based almost entirely on one thing…fear. Fear of what will happen when and if you press the big, red, ugly decision button inscribed with the words of doom, NO GOING BACK. Scary.It’s like opening Pandora’s Box. Crack the lid and you never know what you might get. No matter how much intellectual work is done to prepare leadership for the decision, the fear of evil what if’s and unknowns debilitate leadership’s ability to make smart decisions. The problem in many organizations is that leadership takes too long, or waters down the strategy too much before making the decision. Then the evil really starts.

The Rolling Stones said, “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you get what you need.” Welcome the U.S. Health Care bill.

Harry Reid, the majority Senate leader put it this way to his fellow members of the Senate in late December 2009…”We are bringing security and stability to millions who have health insurance, and bringing health insurance to millions who have none. We may not completely cure this crisis today or tomorrow, but we must start toward that end. We must strive for progress, and not surrender for want of purity.”

Think about that last line for a second, “We must strive for progress, and not surrender for want of purity.” In other words, shit or get off the pot…there’s important work to be done and if we wait any longer our intestines are going to explode.

When it’s time to make the important decisions, leadership has to make them with the best thinking they can put together. The more work done in advance of things turning sour, the more time everyone has to develop the best strategy. The longer you leave it, the less time you have. Simple, right? Only thing is, sometimes leadership drags it out, either refusing to read the writing on the wall or not understanding what it’s saying.

When corporate executives resist the pressure from stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers – and fail to take decisive action, they lose support. It can get so bad that it doesn’t even matter what new strategies or ideas leadership comes up with, their stakeholders will no longer support them. Without support, strategy – any strategy – fails. The reason is that implementation is weak, delayed, and often sabotaged by those who don’t believe.

Does that mean leadership has to compromise? Yes. Of course. Compromise is a sloppy word but it does suggest that good, responsible leadership can garner enough support for a strategy to move forward. As it does, and implementation goes well, those same responsible leaders have the opportunity to take the organization to the next level, and the next after that. With each new step, fear dissipates. There’s more confidence that taking the next step won’t result in complete chaos. Buildings won’t burn. Customers won’t defect. Employees won’t revolt. Leadership will still lead.

Can you go back to the way things were if the decision doesn’t work out? Ummm, no. Why would you want to? The way things were was part of the problem. If your new direction doesn’t work out then make adjustments. Stay on top of developments and don’t, for the love of all that is strategy, don’t wait until it’s too late. Take the step!

Creating the Conditions for Stepping Forward

  1. It’s okay to be afraid to make strategic decisions that change your organization. Don’t be stupid, and make them while there is still time.
  2. Listen very carefully to what your people are saying. You need their support or your strategies will fail.
  3. Stay on top of your decisions. You might not be able to go back but you are able to navigate forward.