Managing Difficult Leadership Decisions

Decision making is an integral component of our role as leaders. Decisions are a common place in life. But decisions by a leader are special. Decisions by a leader influence many. They can make or mar the history. Making a decision is one challenge. Implementing the decision is another challenge. Especially when the decision is a difficult one. Implementing the decision is influenced by the attitude of the subordinates. Implementing decision becomes difficult when the attitude of subordinates become unfavorable.

Subordinates become unfavorable when they perceive their interests are affected by the decision taken. Subordinates can have two types of interests – shared interests as a team and individual interests as typical employees. The shared interests can be profits, social contribution, customer satisfaction etc. If the subordinates feel the decision taken does not actually increase the profit, they may oppose the decision. The individual interests are work-life balance, salary, recognition, promotion, appraisal, job security etc. If the decision taken demands the subordinates to extend more, affecting their work-life balance, they may oppose it.

Understanding these causes can go a long way in avoiding difficult decisions. But reality is not that simple. Reality often places us between the devil and the deep sea. We may land up in a situation where the individual interests are at loggerheads with the team/organization’s interests. Sometimes, the subordinates’ interests can be sabotaged by opposing elements through disinformation, rumors etc. We have to discipline or punish the subordinates and foil the attempts of opposing forces. To err is human. As leaders, we are not an exception. We can take wrong decisions because of spur of a moment, shortsightedness etc. Our subordinates can oppose the decision by pointing out the flaws. How to deal with this type of situations. Definitely the solution is not to completely give in to the subordinates’ demands and put organization at stake.

Opposition is not always bad. Opposition does not just point to disobedience, rebellion. Opposition can also stem from serious thought and sincere concern. There can be something to learn from it. It needs to be respected and addressed accordingly. Therefore the feedback from the subordinates need to be well-received. As our subordinates depend on us, we also depend on them. It is a symbiotic relationship. We need each other. They are also concerned about the organization as we are. They also have expertise and experience. They are also sentient beings as we are. We have our needs and interests. They also have theirs. It is necessary that we pay heed to their feedback about our decisions. We need to be sensitive and empathic. Even if we have not made the right decision we can still make it right. We can try to inspire the subordinates to forgo some of their interests. This can be done by education and our own example. As leader, we should be the first one to sacrifice our interests for sake of organization. We should also try to accommodate few of the subordinates’ interests, concerns in our decision at the cost of organization’s interests. But what about the organization’s interests?

We need to recognize that one of the interests of organization is employees. They make the organization. We need to have realistic sense of detachment from our conception of organization’s best interests. We need to do course correction and accordingly modify our decisions. We are in a changing ephemeral world. It is not realistic to expect 100% success in executing our decisions or achieving the desired targets. Therefore a realistic sense of detachment is always handy.

As 15th century English poet John Lydgate puts it – “…you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”. It is not possible to keep all our subordinates happy all the time. We cannot sacrifice all organizations’ interests for the sake of subordinates’ interests. Selfishness is an inherent evil of humanity. We can try our best to address the opposition through inspiration and accommodation and then go ahead with the modified decision with determination. Therefore we need charisma, care and conviction to manage a difficult decision. Charisma to inspire sacrifice, care to accommodate others’ interests and conviction to go ahead despite the remaining opposition.

To function as a unit, we need a common center. At a material level with conception of this world as all in all and body, mind as all in all, there are various centers of commonality – family, community, organization, country, race, color etc. These centers are not all-encompassing, conflicting/overlapping as their foundations are transitory and subjected to constant change. But a center based on spiritual oneness is all-encompassing and eternal. This is based on the fact that everyone is a spirit soul [BG 2.13]. When the organizational unity is based on the spiritual unity and organizational purpose is based on and inspired by a spiritual purpose, organization is robust, sustainable and harmonious. Inspiration, sensitivity and focus are natural outcomes of a spiritual foundation. Spirituality activates our innate selflessness [BG 5.7]. This naturally makes us sensitive and caring. Spiritual selflessness will naturally enable us to sacrifice our interests for the sake of others. Spiritual focus makes us insusceptible to wordly dishonor, failure etc.


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