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The Weight of Leadership: Decisions and Responsibility

I recently had the opportunity to spend dedicated time with an organizational leader that I respect greatly. As we talked, I was reminded that among a leader’s loneliest moments are when a decision is needed and the stark realization that the result (the effect, the consequence, etc.) of that decision will be ‘our fault’. Good or bad. Positive or negative. As I was told many a time as a US Army Officer, the commander ‘is responsible for everything that their unit does or fails to do’.

Helping Leaders Make Better Decisions

Invested leaders understand the weight (not burden!) associated with this level of decision making amid uncertainty and ambiguity, especially when lives are in the balance. At Michael Rainey and Associates, it is our desire to help leaders make better decisions. In our experience, even in the most time-constrained environments, leaders can illustrate opportunity, reduce uncertainty, and reveal the best path forward with three relatively simple, yet very impactful questions:

1. So What?

Answering this question first should assist leaders in better understanding the purpose of what they are about to undertake (and that requires a decision to be made). The answer to this question should clearly define ‘the problem that we are trying to solve’ and ‘why this is the problem to solve right now’. If difficult to answer, leaders should seek clarity on both the problem that needs to be solved and the desired outcome of the decision.

2. Who Cares?

Leaders must understand who will be affected by the decision. This ‘who’ encompasses both members internal to the organization and those outside. By identifying those with a vested interest in the problem and its solution, the leader can better understand desired outcomes from multiple, and at times competing, perspectives. This holistic view of the ‘so what’ enables leaders to see the potential effects of the decision from differing perspectives to gain a more complete picture of the opportunities available (and answer the final question).

3. How Do I Know If I Did a Good Job?

By having a firm understanding of the problem to solve and desired outcome of the decision (so what) and those impacted by the decision (who cares), leaders can identify those measures of success that will illuminate if an option ‘gets us what we want’. Identify ‘markers of success’ prior to making the decision and then select the best path that achieves the greatest outcome.

We at MRA seek to stand shoulder to shoulder with invested leaders so that they are not dogged by ‘second thoughts’ or paralyzed by the fear of being ‘stuck’ with any choice that may potentially end in failure that they must live with for a lifetime. Instead, we desperately want leaders who can rest assured in their decision making. An assurance obtained through a decision-making framework that is both human focused and outcome-oriented.


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