May the Leadership Force be with you

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Apparently Obi-Wan Kenobi doesn’t actually say the famous line himself until Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones which we all know is the weakest of the series, however plenty of star characters encourage Luke to 'use the Force' throughout his journey to Jedi.

In our last article, we talked about some of the key ingredients needed to be an effective leader: integrity, open communication, and active listening. In this penultimate article in our series of leadership lessons we want to add another to the list, and that’s your ability to make the call: to make the tough decisions that impact not only you, but those around you and potentially your entire business.

We make thousands of decisions every single day. They range from the simple ‘what will I eat for lunch today?’ to the more complex, gnarly, and potentially life-changing ones like ‘do I stay in this job or relationship?’ Life in lockdown in 2020 has, for many, heightened the significance of certain decisions and lessened the relevance of others: we have had to make tough calls on seeing family and friends and at the same time we are more than happy to wear the same clothes for a few days in a row, because who’s gonna notice, right?

As a leader, particularly if you’re a founder or in an MD role, the decisions you are responsible for making can often have fundamental consequences. Strategic direction, investment options, launch dates, partnership deals, critical hires – these are big ticket items which may attract differences of opinion and almost certainly will have a time pressure associated with them.

So why the link to Star Wars and ‘the Force’ here? Well, if you’re a fan of the franchise and want to get technical for a minute, then you might want to check out a proposed definition in this Forbes article. In writing this article we’re considering the Force to be the courage and clarity of thought required to make tough decisions that ultimately lead you to deliver on your goals. Think about Luke in his X-Wing making the final approach to dropping his torpedoes that (kinda) destroyed the Death Star: he is focused, he is brave, he is ignoring unnecessary distractions and he is calm.

Your ability to balance data, deadline and emotion in order to make a decision is a marker of effective leadership.

You have the potential to inspire or infuriate those around you with your decision-making abilities or lack of them. Whether you’re a procrastinator or bulldozer, a cautious analyst or perennial people-please, we’ve put together some simple ideas on how you can get better at making the calls that matter:

  • Trust your people

We’ve started with one that can be a real challenge for founders or those who’ve been there from the start. You’re used to being involved in everything, right? So it’s understandable that you want to have your say on what happens right down to how an email is written or how budgets are put together. Here’s the problem with that: the people you hire to take on roles in your organisation want to do the job they’re paid for. If you’re hiring great people – and we’re assuming you are – then you need to trust them to get on and do what they’re good at. It can be so frustrating when everything has to be ‘run by the boss’ so let go of the need to sign off on everything.  

  • Don’t sweat the small(er) stuff

Another example of the need to let things go, it’s vital that you don’t clog up your days stressing about smaller decisions that can use up mental energy unnecessarily so let go of some things – have the same lunch every day if it helps, or put together some template emails to respond to every day, regular queries for example. Think about where you can delegate or invest in additional help to tackle some of the tasks that are not your strong suit – that could be a person or it could be a system/platform – and buy back some time to focus on the decisions that really matter to the business.

  • Try on someone else’s shoes and seek diverse thinking

This technique works whether you’re stuck as to what to do, and also if you’re at risk of being myopic and driving through personal agendas at the expense of what’s right for the business. There’s a fine line between being decisive and dogmatic so try thinking about what someone else might suggest in a situation. Whether you’re aware of it or not, our emotions can often make it difficult to make the right call so inject some objectivity by stepping into someone else’s shoes or actively seeking diverse opinions and ideas. It’s surprising how many leaders don’t think to ask the views of those around them or do so with the intention of proving them wrong, so make sure you’re willing to put your own agenda aside if someone else puts forward a solution that is better for the business.

  • Try using an if/then approach

If you’re struggling to find an obvious way forward then try using an ‘If > Then’ approach. List out your options, or your pro’s and con’s and identify what would happen if you took each option: “If X happens then we’d need to Y”. It helps you to get into the consequences or impacts of decisions and is a great way to tackle them with calm pragmatism and perspective. 

  • Set a timer

If you find yourself procrastinating, flip-flopping, or if your business is at an impasse on what direction to take, try limiting the time you have to make the call. Literally. Set a timer for 15 minutes for you / your team to agree a way forward, or stick a post-it note on your fridge saying “I will have made the decision by the end of this week”. You’ll be amazed at the clarity that can come from a deadline: it prompts honest input and often strikes at the heart of the matter.

Your business might not be about saving entire planets or battling evil empires, but it does require you to have the courage, clarity and confidence to make decisions that matter. You may not always get them right, but any decision is better than no decision, and you will undoubtedly learn useful lessons whatever the outcome.