Can good leaders make bad decisions?

In the last week I’ve had several people reach out with an underlying common question; can good leaders make bad decisions? The conversations have been broached by leaders who have made what they believe to be a bad decision and in turn, are questioning their own ability to lead, as well as by others who are struggling with the decisions of their leaders. I believe that good leaders can and do make bad decisions, but I think there are additional layers to unpack in determining how to feel about those decisions.

Leadership is often about helping a group move from here to there; from where they currently are to where they want to be. This may require calculated risks as you step into the unknown. As a result, there may be decisions you have made that in hindsight are considered to be bad decisions. I would argue that there are two kinds of bad decisions:
1. A bad decision that you learn and grow from with no harm done. There might be a set back in terms of a timeline but ultimately the people you lead are safe and intact as a team.
2. A bad decision that does damage, often that damage is to people.

I believe that bad decisions which do damage can be the deal breaker in a leader’s career. These decisions may cause harm to a consumer, financial loss to franchisees, negatively alter the reputation of your employees, stunt or limit the growth and potential of your staff, or force your people to compromise their values. My experience has been that this is a quick way to sever trust and when trust is broken leaders shift from having engaged followers to people who function as anchors unwilling to move. Bad decisions that do damage often come from leaders who fail to recognize that the collective input of those around them is their most valuable asset. Willfully ignoring your people is simply not an option as a leader. A team, business, or organization can rebound from many things but a loss of trust is not one of those things.

The best leaders I know consistently do the following when making a decision:

  1. They hire great people and trust them when they point out a blind spot.

  2. They listen carefully to the opinions of their people and they ask the necessary questions to dissect and understand how a decision will impact others.

  3. They share the direction they are leaning to allow those around them to share dissenting opinions or to potentially to lean in as well.

  4. They communicate their decisions to reinforce the belief that their people matter in the decision-making process.

Leaders often have to forego what they want in order to move a group forward. Check your ego, it’s not about you. Do what it is best for the team, continue to see the big picture, purposefully consider the impact on others so you can help to move the group from where you are to where you want to be without losing your most valuable asset; your people.

As you move into unknown territory you may still make bad decisions but if your people are valued and protected in the process then a poor decision won’t be seen in a negative light but rather as an opportunity for all to learn and grow.

When you protect and value your people in the decision-making process they will do the same for you when decisions don’t go as planned.

Put your people first.

Molly Grisham,
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Molly Grisham