Making hard decisions is one of several skills CEOs and CXOs must master in order to lead. The failure to do so can, at times, be deadly or crippling to achieving healthy growth and profitability.

Critical decisions are often difficult, perplexing, and very stressful. Making career-making (or breaking) decisions requires thought, deliberation, execution and follow through. Even the most decisive leaders can be thrown into a state of indecisiveness when faced with making career making or breaking decisions. There is no single approach serves well every time, but several key factors should be considered to ensure reaching balanced and effective conclusions.

People respond to the pressure of big decisions in different ways. Decision-makers often either rush to conclusions or develop analysis paralysis and decide too late to affect positive change and results. Finding a middle ground is difficult. How much time is needed is related to the magnitude and complexity of the decision.

Nick Saban decisions

Nick Saban’s career-defining move to change quarterbacks at halftime of the National Championship demonstrated key decision making principles.

Involve Others but Own the Outcome

Don’t make decisions in a vacuum. Involve your team and don’t rely only on yourself. Collaborating with trusted advisors and team members exposes you to differing opinions, assures a more informed decision and gives you a better shot at winning buy-in from those affected. Important issues, such as corporate strategy typically require input from several sources but, at the end of the day, needs to be decided by one person who accepts accountability for the outcome and not a group consensus of several individuals who have no or little stake in the consequences of the decision. 

Trust Your Gut Reaction but Challenge Your Rationale

Your first instinct may be right, but is probably not based on detailed and rational thought and formal analysis. Question your initial reaction and test it with more data and analysis. Intuition is like a lightning bolt. Explain your reasoning to others because if not, others may not understand your thought process. 

Be Open to Considering New Information

Don’t pre-judge the situation – forming an opinion early on in the process, based on preliminary information, and sticking with it despite what you learn later. Pre-judgment is when someone is referring to data or examples that support their point of view and disregarding data or examples that are inconsistent with it. Be a devil’s advocate and continually challenge your initial assumptions. When you find information that maintains your perspective, ask yourself whether there is a dissenting point of view that you need to seek out and consider.

Don’t Always Correlate Today’s Challenge and Decision with Your Past Experience

Human tendency is to make big decisions by correlating a current decision to addressing a past situation. Making these connections can serve well, but there are drawbacks as well. Relying on past experiences may not be relevant. Reasoning by analogy may lead you to focusing on similarities and ignoring differences between situations. This is often where problems and challenges may arise. Refer to previous incidents as data and context, but question how pertinent and useful they truly are in the current decision. 

Be Aware of Your Personal Predispositions and Possible Prejudices

We all are presented situations where we have a predisposition – things we are attached to or our own subconscious self-interests. Making a decision because it will be easier to implement or because it is the one that is easiest and most popular aren’t good reasons. Focus on reaching a fair, balanced and best decision, putting aside your personal feelings and predispositions. 

Don’t Close the Book When the Decision is Made

Decision making is not a perfect science. Many times, you don’t have complete information on which to move ahead with a decision. This is not a reason to procrastinate and remember, no decision is a decision. Continually monitor the situation closely and make necessary adjustments as the situation and circumstances change.  



– Own the decision, its outcomes and possible consequences

– Get others’ insights to better understand the various issues and points of view involved

– Recognize when you may be predisposed to a person or situation and ask a trusted advisor to check your possible prejudice

– Regularly review decisions you’ve made to ensure they are still valid, update as current circumstances dictate.


– Rely exclusively on your gut instinct or unfounded initial reactions you have

– Ignore new information or insights, especially if they challenge your current point of view

– Assume the issue is exactly like past situations you’ve encountered and decisions you’ve made.

Rick Nichols

Rick Nichols, TechCXO Managing Partner

Rick Nichols is TechCXO’s Managing Partner for the firm’s Strategy, Sales & Marketing practice. See Rick’s full bio here.