leadership fears

He Who Hesitates is Lost – Don’t Let Fear Derail You

Written by on December 1, 2015

One of the most critical responsibilities of a CEO is to make decisions, to judge a situation and then act in a way that benefits the organization, upholds its interests, and furthers its mission. It’s a task that requires some thought – but how much? When top executives fail to act quickly enough, the results can negatively impact their organizations – and how they are perceived as leaders.

Should I? Shouldn’t I?

In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Dr. David Astorino of RHR International discusses what he believes is the biggest regret among incoming CEOs: “When they look back, and you ask them what they would have done differently, they almost always say, ‘I knew in my gut that was not going to work with that individual, and I wish I had trusted that gut feeling and made that decision faster.’”

The fear of acting too soon or making the wrong decision (which extends far beyond personnel issues) can limit the efficacy of a CEO and undermine his or her people’s trust in their leadership. For example, a CEO entered into a new role and realized quickly that she needed to make some changes in her leadership team. But she was conscious that the organization was going through a period of change. She felt that it was important to articulate her expectations to the leadership team and to provide them with some time and guidance to see if they could lead in a way that was consistent with her vision.

What’s Best for the Organization?

Over time, it became obvious to everyone that some of the members of the existing leadership team were not going to be able to adapt to meet her expectations. The changes needed to happen, and quickly. As it stood, the new CEO wasn’t able to move her agenda to transform the company ahead fast enough with the people she had on her team. She made the changes to her team and immediately began to drive her agenda more rapidly.

A big barrier for her in making this decision was that she had felt a great deal of concern about the impact her decision would have on the individuals. Just because you’re a CEO doesn’t mean you have your empathy gene removed. Anytime that you have to restructure or terminate people, it feels terrible. But you have to ask yourself: “What’s in the best interest of the organization?”

That is the best filter to use for any decision, whether it’s related to personnel or other strategic issues. In the case of our CEO, she might have asked herself: “Based on what I know now, is keeping this person in this role really what’s best for the organization? No? Ok, then I need to act.”

Determining when to act is certainly a dilemma for CEOs. How do you figure it out?

  • Create a good support network. Do you have people who can act as sounding boards to help you make decisions? These could be coaches, peers, or perhaps a member of your board . Cultivate relationships with people to whom you are comfortable saying, “I’m struggling with this decision. Can I talk to you about it?”
  • Realize that the organization you’re leading is a reflection of you. As a CEO, you need to be well-grounded. If you think you are being kind by keeping people who no longer fit or who are not qualified for their role, over time, that decision is going to reflect negatively on you. Every decision you make has an impact on how people perceive you. And not only “you” as an individual; “you” as the organization.
  • Gather as much data as you can – but set a timeframe for decisions. It’s natural to fear what you don’t know. Gathering as much data as reasonably possible can help you make a sound, informed decision. But set a timeframe. Otherwise, you could spend so much time gathering information that you miss the boat!

Anytime you are faced with a big decision, look at how much data you need to support a decision. Examine how the decision fits with your strategy. Ask, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and determine if you can live with it. Then act.

He who hesitates is lost. You can only know what you can know. If you’re satisfied that you’ve done all due diligence and that you are acting in the best interest of the organization, what’s stopping you?