Andy Grove and Gordon Moore of Intel were struggling with a severe challenge to their business. As foreign competition grew, their memory chip business was becoming unsustainable, and their margins were eroding. Grove suggested that the Board of Directors would fire them and replace them with someone else, and he asked Moore what the new CEO would do when they took over. Moore said that the new CEO would leave the memory-chip business.
Grove asked why wouldn’t they fire themselves and come back and make the decision themselves, rather than waiting for someone else to do what was necessary. They left the memory chips business.
Everything Is Your Fault
As a leader, everything is your fault. You are responsible for your organization. You are responsible for making the decisions necessary to guide your organization (or division or department or small team) to the better future to which you are leading them. Many of the choices you might make are not easy calls, and in some cases, you will have to make them with less information than you would like, and without any real knowledge of the outcome until later.
For some, the responsibility is empowering. If everything is your fault, then you are the one who can do something to change the outcome from negative to positive. Grove recognized his authority and his power to shape the future and make the difficult decision. He did so before someone had to do it for him.
Why Leaders Wait to Decide
There are several categories where leaders wait to make decisions that cost them time, opportunities, and results.
- The Unknown: Because you are human, you struggle with the unknown. It’s not enough to make decisions. You have to make good decisions, the right decisions. People are counting on you.
- The Challenges of Making Change: You know that some decisions are going to require a real, sustained change initiative. The change you are making may be disruptive and cause people to lose focus–or fail.
- The Devil You Know: The decision you may need to make might be around a problem you have known for long enough that it feels better to deal with a challenge you know than the new one that is sure to follow the change you make.
- Lack of Focus: You can be so focused on your priorities you lack the focus on the obstacles that prevent you from delivering the results you need, the execution failures, and their root causes.
Recently, I heard a sales manager describe a pipeline meeting as a “pipe lies” meeting. What do you fill your pipe lies with? “Hopeium,” of course. Leaders are not immune from waiting and hoping things get better on their own.
The Obvious Hard Calls
What is most interesting for our purposes here are the decisions that you need to make that are well-known and have persisted over long periods.Some decisions are difficult to make. Other decisions are obvious, but leaders still don’t make those obvious decisions.
If you are a leader, you have people on your team who quit a long time ago but still show up for work. They have been in their role for years, but they are no longer happy, and they are biding their time waiting for a new opportunity. Some cynical people infect those around them, and because you haven’t confronted or removed from your team continue to spread their negative mindset.
Lack of Accountability
Over time, accountability for results has eroded. Some results that are necessary to build the future are not being generated, but because the people responsible for creating those results are no longer accountable, it isn’t forthcoming. You know that you need to change the culture, but there are going to be negative repercussions and a fair bit of conflict when you confront people.
Lack of Execution
Other areas of the business have struggled to produce the results for which they are responsible. Because problems tend to find their way to the highest level of competency necessary to solve them, your team has been covering the large gap another team created. Now your team is not producing the results they’re of which they are capable because they deployed in another area of the business.
The list of areas where the problem is well-defined, the answer is obvious, and yet no change is made is endless. Issues in these categories persist over long periods because the obvious decision isn’t taken—or soon enough.
Making the Decision for Your Replacement
Like Grove, you don’t have to wait for your replacement to decide for you after you are gone. Instead, you can decide before it’s necessary to find someone else to do it for you. In some cases, you may be the only one who can make these decisions, and if they are known to you, then they are likely known to everyone. As a leader, you are the one empowered to do the things that are necessary to create the future.
If you want to improve your results and your effectiveness as a leader, start by making a list of the three (no more) challenges that are preventing you from producing the results you need. You may have an Andy Grove type decision, one that is enormous, difficult, and one with enormous strategic implications. If that’s the decision, you need to make, far be it from to prevent you from making it as a result of the questions below.
What might be more useful are the three decisions you know you need to make, where the choice is obvious, and where you have let something go on much too long:
- What decision should have been made a long time ago, but hasn’t been?
- What challenges haven’t you confronted because they are trying, time-consuming, and potentially disruptive in the short-term?
- What have you allowed to go unaddressed that needs to be dealt with before it becomes a more significant, more difficult challenge?
Problems don’t age well. Tiny monsters grow up to be giant monsters. You are better off dispatching them before they become entrenched and before they wreak havoc on your results.
Be bold, be daring, and be resolved to make the hard calls before someone else has to do it for you.