I made quite a bunch of difficult decisions in my professional life. I underestimated their negative impact a few times. I received a lot of flak for making them in the first place. And I would probably make vast majority of them again if I had a chance.
I also restrained myself and didn’t make a few harsh decisions. Sometimes I wanted to do it but couldn’t, sometimes I could but didn’t have guts and sometimes I just didn’t want to deal with consequences. Given the chance I would likely act differently in these situations.
It seems I’m a bit gung-ho when it comes to fighting status quo. Why?
Well, first thing is that whenever you’re reading a story how a company was turned around the story always has this big change, which eventually results in a new, better situation. If you’re doing great that’s fine – do more of whatever you’re doing.
However, pretty few of us are in a position where we can say that we’re doing totally fine. It means that we need to try, sometimes hard, to change things around us. It means that we need guts to make difficult decisions on occasions.
What kind of decisions you ask? Well, so far the most difficult decisions I made were somehow connected with people. It was either about letting them go, which may be just a neat metaphor for firing, or not giving them what they wanted, or moving them out of their comfort zones.
After all, if everyone around is happy with your decisions, they aren’t difficult.
So we come back to the question which so far I’m trying to avoid answering to. Why am I willing to face unpleasant consequences instead of just accepting status quo?
One answer would be that I’m physically unable to accept mediocrity. I mean, in the long run. It doesn’t mean that I’m not willing to work in an organization that sucks. I did, at least once, and even though the starting point was really appalling, the thing which kept me there was a chance to change things around. The thing which frustrates me way more, and mean much, much more, is when you aren’t allowed to improve the situation even if you want it badly. Then, it doesn’t really matter what the starting point is. It may be decent but if it isn’t going to change my frustration will grow. And I don’t like to be frustrated, thus guts to make difficult decisions.
Another answer would be that the real change more often than not requires difficult decisions. I like a metaphor I learned years ago from one of my friends: “powdering shit.” It doesn’t make it smell better or be more pleasant. It’s just fooling yourself – “it is powder, you see, not shit.” Well, no, not really. It smells like shit, looks like shit, it is shit. Sorry. Powdering it doesn’t improve it. At all. You want to change the aroma? Clean the mess. Get your hands dirty. There’s no easy way. The only way is difficult (and unpleasant). Thus difficult decisions again.
It doesn’t mean that bold decisions are a way to go in each and every situation. No. The problem is, it’s way easier to find people who prefer accepting mediocre status quo than painful changes for the better. 4 out of 5 people (OK, I’ve just made up this statistic) will prefer to wait to the least possible (possible, not reasonable) moment before they make a difficult decision. Sometimes this waiting takes years. Years of mediocrity or, even worse, years of witnessing how the situation slowly deteriorates to the point where company goes out of business.
And this is another reason for difficult decisions. There are few people having guts to make them. People, in general, would likely accept them, even though some of them would complain, but they don’t make them. Ever. Unless forced. Even if they say otherwise. After all, who likes to do unpleasant tasks? So yes, my gung-ho approach sort of compensates ultra-conservative approach of majority, thus difficult decisions once more.
Now, don’t understand me wrong – difficulty that goes along with a decision doesn’t automatically make it a good one. You can be wrong with a difficult choice as well as with an easy one, except in former case it will hurt you badly. No risk, no fun, they say.
However, when I think about wrong decisions I made, somehow majority of them are those which seemed ease at the time of making them. It was sort of accepting status quo. “It was always like this, why would you want to change it?”
To make it better. To make our teams better. To make our work better. To make our products better. To catch up with ever-changing business environment. Or, in other words, to keep the organization alive in the long run. Not a bad motivation, eh?