How To Make Great Leadership Decisions

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Why do leaders fail? They make bad decisions. And in some cases they compound bad decision upon bad decision. You cannot separate leadership from decisioning, for like it or not, they are inexorably linked. Put simply, the outcome of a leader’s decisions can, and usually will, make or break them. Those leaders who avoid making decisions solely for fear of making a bad decision, or conversely those that make decisions just for the sake of making a decision will likely not last long. The fact of the matter is that senior executives who rise to the C-suite do so largely based upon their ability to consistently make sound decisions. However while it may take years of solid decision making to reach the boardroom, it often times only takes one bad decision to fall from the ivory tower. As much as you may wish it wasn’t so, as a CEO you’re really only as good as your last decision.

Making sound decisions is a skill set that needs to be developed like any other. As a person that works with CEOs and entrepreneurs on a daily basis I can tell you with great certainty that all leaders are not created equal when it comes to the competency of their decisioning skills. Nothing will test your metal as CEO more than your ability to make decisions. That said, nobody is immune to bad decisioning. We have all made bad decisions whether we like to admit it or not.  Show me someone who hasn’t made a bad decision and I’ll show you someone who is either not being honest, or someone who avoids decisioning at all costs, which by the way, constitutes a bad decision.

Here’s the thing – even leaders who don’t fail make bad decisions from time-to-time. When I reflect back upon the poor decisions I’ve made, it’s not that I wasn’t capable of making the correct decision, but for whatever reason I failed to use sound decisioning methodology. Gut instincts can only take you so far in life, and anyone who operates outside of a sound decisioning framework will eventually fall prey to an act of oversight, misinformation, misunderstanding, manipulation, impulsivity or some other negative influencing factor.

The first key in understanding how to make great decisions is learning how to synthesize the overwhelming amount incoming information leaders must deal with on a daily basis, while making the best decisions possible in a timely fashion. The key to dealing with the voluminous amounts of information is as simple as becoming discerning surrounding the filtering of various inputs.

Understanding that a hierarchy of knowledge exists is critically important when attempting to make prudent decisions. Put simply…not all inputs should weigh equally in one’s decisioning process. By developing a qualitative and quantitative filtering mechanism for your decisioning process you can make better decisions in a shorter period of time. The hierarchy of knowledge is as follows:

  • Gut Instincts: This is an experiential and/or emotional filter that may often times have no current underpinning of hard analytical support. That said, in absence of other decisioning filters it can sometimes be all a person has to go on when making a decision. Even when more refined analytics are available, your instincts can often provide a very valuable gut check against the reasonability or bias of other inputs. The big take away here is that intuitive decisioning can be refined and improved. My advice is to actually work at becoming very discerning.
  • Data: Raw data is comprised of disparate facts, statistics, or random inputs that in-and-of-themselves hold little value. Making conclusions based on data in its raw form will lead to flawed decisions based on incomplete data sets.
  • Information: Information is simply an evolved, or more complete data set. Information is therefore derived from a collection of processed data where context and meaning have been added to disparate facts which allow for a more thorough analysis.
  • Knowledge: Knowledge is information that has been refined by analysis such that it has been assimilated, tested and/or validated. Most importantly, knowledge is actionable with a high degree of accuracy because proof of concept exists.

Even though people often treat theory as knowledge, and opinion as fact, they are not one and the same. I have witnessed many a savvy executive blur the lines between fact and fiction resulting in an ill advised decision when decisions are made under extreme pressure and outside of a sound decisioning framework. Decisions made at the gut instinct or data level can be made quickly, but offer a higher level of risk. Decisioning at the information level affords a higher degree of risk management, but are still not as safe as those decisions based upon actionable knowledge.

Another aspect that needs to be factored into the decisioning process is the source of the input. I believe it was Cyrus the Great who said “diversity in counsel, unity in command” meaning that good leaders seek the counsel of others, but maintain command control over the final decision. While most successful leaders subscribe to this theory, the real question in not whether you should seek counsel, but in fact where, and how much counsel you should seek. You see more input, or the wrong input, doesn’t necessarily add value to a decisioning process. Volume for the sake of volume will only tend to confuse matters, and seeking input from sources that can’t offer significant contributions is likely a waste of time. Two other issues that should be considered in your decisioning process as they relate to the source of input are as follows:

  1. Credibility: What is the track record of your source? Is the source reliable and credible? Are they delivering data, information or knowledge? Will the source tell you what you want to hear, what they want you to hear, or will they provide the unedited version of cold hard truth?
  2. Bias: Are there any hidden and/or competing agendas that are coloring the input being received? Is the input being provided for the benefit of the source or the benefit of the enterprise?

The complexity of the current business landscape, combined with ever increasing expectations of performance, and the speed at which decisions must be made, are a potential recipe for disaster for today’s executive unless a defined methodology for decisioning is put into place. If you incorporate the following metrics into your decisioning framework you will minimize the chances of making a bad decision:

  1. Perform a Situation Analysis: What is motivating the need for a decision? What would happen if no decision is made? Who will the decision impact (both directly and indirectly)? What data, analytics, research, or supporting information do you have to validate the inclinations driving your decision?
  2. Subject your Decision to Public Scrutiny: There are no private decisions. Sooner or later the details surrounding any decision will likely come out. If your decision were printed on the front page of the newspaper how would you feel? What would your family think of your decision? How would your shareholders and employees feel about your decision? Have you sought counsel and/or feedback before making your decision?
  3. Conduct a Cost/Benefit Analysis: Do the potential benefits derived from the decision justify the expected costs? What if the costs exceed projections, and the benefits fall short of projections?
  4. Assess the Risk/Reward Ratio: What are all the possible rewards, and when contrasted with all the potential risks are the odds in your favor, or are they stacked against you?
  5. Assess Whether it is the Right Thing To Do: Standing behind decisions that everyone supports doesn’t particularly require a lot of chutzpah. On the other hand, standing behind what one believes is the right decision in the face of tremendous controversy is the stuff great leaders are made of. My wife has always told me that “you can’t go wrong by going right,” and as usual I find her advice to be spot on…Never compromise your value system, your character, or your integrity.
  6. Make The Decision: Perhaps most importantly, you must have a bias toward action, and be willing to make the decision. Moreover, you must learn to make the best decision possible even if you possess an incomplete data set. Don’t fall prey to analysis paralysis, but rather make the best decision possible with the information at hand using some of the methods mentioned above. Opportunities and not static, and the law of diminishing returns applies to most opportunities in that the longer you wait to seize the opportunity the smaller the return typically is. In fact, more likely is the case that the opportunity will completely evaporate if you wait too long to seize it.

If you have any other advice and/or suggestions about how to make better decisions, please share them in the comments section below…

Play To Win

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Playing to Win
Today’s message is not likely to please the politically correct, nor will it mollycoddle the timid. I’m not going to address competing or playing nicely, rather I’m going to deal very bluntly with the topic of winning. Want to succeed? It’s easier than you might think…just don’t quit. Strip away the excuses, rationalizations, and justifications, and the only thing standing between you and the attainment of your objectives is what you see staring back at you when you look in the mirror each morning. In today’s post I’ll examine the benefits of playing to win…

How quickly time passes…in only a matter of a few weeks we’ll close out the first 3 months of 2010. So I have a few questions for you: Are you on pace to meet your objectives? Will you be carrying positive momentum into Q2, or will you be playing catch-up from the get go? If you think Q1 passed quickly, it won’t be long before you’re feeling the same way about Q2. Did you just show up the last few months, or did you play to win?

I’m a big fan of the Die Hard movies, and the one thing you have to admire about the main character, detective John McClain (played by Bruce Willis), is that regardless of the obstacles he encounters, he just won’t quit. Granted, the aforementioned example of determination against all odds comes from a fictional character, but the fact of the matter is that successful people play to win. They don’t indulge themselves in half-hearted attempts destined for failure, rather they choose to focus all their efforts and energies on accomplishing their mission. 

My first football coach used to say: “Don’t even bother showing up if you’re not going to play to win…” Mind you I tend to be a bit competitive, but even so, that phrase has stuck with me my entire life. I don’t often bother with taking on an endeavor unless I plan to accomplish the task at hand, and that means not quitting until I meet the objective. It is that “refuse to lose” and “never say die” attitude that I picked-up on the playing field, and had further reinforced during my time in the military that provides me with a competitive advantage.

I have found that dedication, determination, attention to detail, commitment, and focus are the traits that have been most valuable to me throughout the years, and are therefore the strengths that I tend to play to. The good news is this…if you examine the aforementioned traits you’ll quickly see that I possess no special skill, and I have no secret tricks up my sleeve. Rather the things that have allowed me to serve my clients well, are things that anyone can harness and leverage if they possess one thing…the desire to do so.

I could certainly paint a more complex picture of what it takes to be successful by citing esoteric management theories, but the truth of the matter is that I just don’t quit until I get the job done. I don’t spend my time complaining about the challenges and obstacles, rather I spend my time solving problems and creating solutions. If my objective is to get to the other side of the wall, I don’t really care if I go over the wall, under the wall, around the wall or through the wall…I just care that I get to the other side. While I might spend a bit of time evaluating the most efficient strategy for getting to the other side of said wall, it will ultimately be my focus on the tactical execution of conquering the challenge that will determine my success. A bias toward action is always a better path than falling prey to analysis paralysis.

I once played an entire half of a football game with a broken ankle, early on in my first entrepreneurial venture I found myself at a critical nexus and chose to liquidate personal assets to meet payroll, I’ve gone as many as 4 days in a row without sleeping to stay the course and solve a critical issue, I’ve led teams to achieve things that others said couldn’t be accomplished, I’ve kept my family a priority being happily married for more than 25 years and having raised two wonderful children, and the list could go on…My point in describing these actions is not to pat myself on the back for anyone could have done these things, but the reality is that most people don’t. They choose to accept defeat…they don’t play to win…They aren’t willing to do what it takes to be successful…They quit. 

Quitting is a temptation that all of us are consistently confronted with. The reason that so many people become a casualty of giving up, is because they can. Put simply, quitting is one of the easiest things to do in life. If you take your eye off the ball, even if only momentarily, that’s all it takes for most people to throw in the towel is a tinge of anger, humiliation, panic, rejection, stress, frustration, hurt, pain, jealousy, sorrow or anguish. Look back on your live, or the lives of others, and you’ll find numerous instances of people who took the easy way out and just quit.

Upon further examination, you’ll also find that the people who have succeeded in life are those people who displayed the grit and fortitude to stay the course. They are the ones who possess the desire and will to overcome whatever challenges and barriers that happen to be placed in their path.

My message to you as we enter Q2 is simply this: Play to win…Don’t compromise your values, define your vision, refine your mission, architect your strategy, identify your objectives, set your goals, implement your tactics and engage in willful, purposeful action. Stay focused and do not quit until you’ve met your objectives…

Fear, Failure, Risk and Success

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Fear, Failue, Risk and SuccessBecause risk management as it applies to executive decisioning is a subject that is not adequately addressed in the educational world, it is often left to lessons of experience. As such, learning how to recognize, understand, quantify and manage risk is one of those lessons that often comes at a very high price. While each individual has a different tolerance for risk, it is how a person chooses to manage risk that will have a direct correlation on their ability to succeed in the world of business. In today’s post I’ll examine the relationships between fear, risk, failure and success.

So, what is the greatest fear possessed by executives and entrepreneurs? It has been my experience that the greatest fear most professionals struggle with is the fear of failure. It is often times this fear of failure that governs how much risk a business person will take, and in turn how successful (or not) they are likely to become. 

Fear in and of itself is not a bad thing, rather it is how a person chooses to cope with fear that will determine its effect on their life. Ask anyone who has ever been in combat and they’ll tell you that it is their innate and often heightened sense of fear that helped to keep them alive. A good soldier doesn’t give into fear, but they learn to respect and manage their fear so that it acutally becomes their ally and not their adversary.  

Most professionals don’t naturally associate the words “success” and “failure” as having anything to do with one another. However under the right circumstances, failure is absolutely the best experiential learning tool available. Furthermore, I would go so far as to say failure is an essential element of becoming successful. In fact, if you show me a professional who has never experienced failure, I’ll say that professional either hasn’t tried hard enough or is very new to the world of business.

One of my favorite lessons in the world of overcoming failures, and understanding the value of persistence, is what can be learned from looking at the life of Abraham Lincoln. Born into poverty, Mr. Lincoln was faced with defeat throughout most of his life. He twice failed in business, lost eight different elections and suffered a nervous breakdown. The following bullet points represent Lincoln’s chronological path to the White House:

  • 1816: Lincoln’s family lost their home and he had to quit school to support them.
  • 1818: His mother passed away.
  • 1831: He failed in business.
  • 1832: He ran for state legislature and lost, also lost his job, and while he wanted to go to law school he couldn’t get in.
  • 1833: He borrowed money to start a new business and was bankrupt by the end of the year. He spent the next 17 years paying off the debt.
  • 1834: He ran for state legislature again and this time he won.
  • 1835: He was engaged to be married and his fiance died.
  • 1836: Mr. Lincoln suffered a total nervous breakdown and spent six months in bed.
  • 1838: He sought to become speaker of the state legislature and was again defeated.
  • 1840: He sought to become elector and was defeated.
  • 1843: Lincoln ran for Congress and lost.
  • 1846: He ran for Congress again and this time he won.
  • 1848: Lincoln lost his re-election race for Congress.
  • 1849: He sought the position of land officer in his home state and was turned down.
  • 1854: Lincoln ran for the US Senate and lost.
  • 1856: He sought the Vice-Presidential nomination and lost receiving less than 100 votes.
  • 1858: He ran yet again for the US Senate and lost.
  • 1860: Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States.

It was in fact Abraham Lincoln who later said: “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” Lincoln was obviously someone who was more focused on pursuing his goals than being guided by a fear of failure. Thomas Edison failed more than 1000 times before he successfully invented the light bulb, and he was later quoted as saying: “Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” 

I have a strong belief that fear of failure is far more damaging than failure itself. While successful people overcome their fear of failure, fear absolutely incapacitates unsuccessful people. Over the years I have witnessed business people, who but for being guided by fear of failure, would have likely been very successful. It was Mark Twain who said: “Courage is resistance to and mastery of fear–not the absence of fear.”

Failure is really a matter of reason and perspective. I have met individuals ranging in perspective from those who believe anything short of perfection is failure, to those who don’t consider anything to be a failure. It is not where you fall on the risk spectrum that matters, rather it is how you learn to overcome your fears and manage risk that will determine how successful you will become. My nature is to be somewhat conservative, but I learned long ago that if I were to allow myself to be guided by my fears I would have very few successes. I am a classic example of someone who has learned to manage risk in order to assuage my fears, which in turn allows me to pursue activities that lead to success.

All people have the ability to gain control over their fear of failure by simply defining their tolerance for risk, and then using their new risk tolerance definition to manage their “fight or flight” tendencies. For years I have subscribed to using the following acronym to help overcome fear and manage risk:

Focus: Focus on your values, vision, mission, strategy, goals, tactics and processes. Clarity of thought and attention to detail will take you where you want to go. Don’t focus on failure; focus on success.

Explore: Search out your fears and confront them. Be willing to learn from your fears. I have learned far more from my fears and failures than I ever have from my victories. Introspective thinking is one of the most productive things you can do to advance your learning.

Assess: This is your time to innovate…Take stock of what you learn during times of self-assessment, failure analysis, introspective thinking and research. There is nothing wrong with failure assuming that you learn from it, leverage it, and not fall prey to the same mistakes in the future.

Respond: Develop a bias toward action…Use focus, exploration, and assessment to develop actionable steps to managing risk and achieving your goals. You can accomplish great things through action and few things through inaction.

Bottom line…Don’t be limited by your fears or your failures. The truth is that most fears possessed by individuals are likely self-imposed, and in fact rarely have a factual basis. There is an old axiom that states fear is an acronym for False Expectations Assumed Real. The reality is that most failures are simply stepping stones to future success. Get focused, harness your fears, leverage your fears, and take action. To your continued success…

Famous Failures

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Famous Failures

The response to the Michael Jordan piece I posted earlier today was overwhelming. Most of the e-mails I received asked for more inspirational videos to be mixed-in amongst the more traditional posts. In that vein, I thought I’d offer the above video on famous failures as a follow-up piece for your weekend enjoyment.

Michael Jordan and Failure

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Michael Jordan “Failure” Nike Commercial

In a previous post entitled “Don’t Quit” I espoused the benefits of staying the course and not giving up. In today’s post I wanted to share a short video with you in support of the concept that it is acutally those who have the fortitude to work through failure that often have the most noteworthy success. While this video is just a Nike commercial it nonetheless proves that when you look behind the public face of success you will most often find quiet determination, persistence, and a refuse to lose attitude…