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Making tough decisions is a key part of being a strong leader. To grow and improve, you need to be able to make decisions that may not be popular or easy. Leaders must have the courage to stand up for what they believe in, even when it’s difficult.

Here are 9 decisions that separate the strongest leaders from the weakest ones:

1) Actually Making Decisions

This may seem obvious, but when you are a leader, people expect you to lead. Taking the lead means making decisions. Weak leaders often struggle with this or try to avoid making decisions altogether by passing the buck or procrastinating. Strong leaders know that a decision, even if it’s not the popular one, is better than no decision at all.

2) Firing a Toxic Top Performer

Most owners I meet hate firing people, even when termination is well-deserved. It’s just never easy. You think about their family, their career, the wasted talent, etc. It’s doubly hard to fire a top performer because they are moving the needle…bringing in profits.

Here’s the problem with a TTP (Toxic Top Performer), they are typically arrogant, above the law, careless, and leave others to clean up their messes. And the more you give them, the more they want…inches and miles. Over time, this demoralizes the rest of the team. It’s a silent killer.

I too had to learn this lesson. It wasn’t easy. If you’re a small team and you want to put up with it, that’s up to you. However, if you want to build a cohesive team that works together well, then you cannot tolerate it. I always recommend engaging in honest and open dialog with the offender to try and improve the situation, but if things don’t get better, you’re likely better off without them.

Besides, other employees are likely to gladly pick up the slack until a replacement is found.

3) Choosing to Value People Over Profits

Pretty much every business owner I speak to these days says that he or she values people over money, but the proof is in the pudding.

If your employees see choosing profits over people, they will see you as greedy. This could lead to all types of profit leaks in your company from slacking off to cheating to outright stealing. 

Admittedly, not all employees will see the importance of making a profit and what all it takes actually to make a profit in business. When you are building people, they will love to fight for profits and build the company’s future. They see themselves as a part of the company’s future. They do not want to be “used up” and ground down to create profits for the company. I wouldn’t want this, and I bet you wouldn’t either.

Earning back lost profit is much easier than earning back lost trust.

4) Firing a Customer

Some customers are easy to please while others are more difficult to please. Sometimes customers become agitated or outright exacerbated us, and we sometimes deserve it. I’ve always prided myself in my team’s ability to please demanding homeowners. Their neighbors typically know them as picky, and if you can get that person’s recommendation, the neighbors will be easy sales.

However, on occasion, a customer will do something intolerable, and I have fired them in the past. On one occasion, a homeowner began using racial slurs when speaking to and about our on-site team on an exterior paint project. We value people, and it was obvious that this client did not hold the same values. I was not going to ask the team to work under those conditions. I told the customer to find another contractor, and I left with the crew. I left some money on the table that day, but I also made a huge deposit in the hearts of every person on that crew.

5) Making an Unpopular Decision

Every decision you make in business carries risk. Some little and some much. In the end, your job as the leader is to acquire data from everywhere you can, weigh the data, and make a decision. Although consensus makes decisions easier, you cannot run your business by consensus.

You cannot run your business by consensus. 

Don’t be afraid to make unpopular decisions that you feel are right. If you have the right people, they will still get behind the decision because they believe in you. The flip side of this is that you must always be ready and willing to admit and correct your mistakes.

6) Taking Risks with Money

Again, every decision you make carries risk. Spending money without a guaranteed return is by definition, risky. It’s risky to invest money in marketing and new people, especially newly added positions.

Here’s how I’ve always weighed the risk in these situations: Boil it down to numbers. If I bring on this new person at $50,000 per year, what will have to be true within 12 months from now? Is it a certain amount of revenue growth or cost savings? It could also be time that I personally get back. Once you can measure it, you can make more informed decisions.

Boil it down to numbers that can be measured.

7) Holding Firm to Your Values

Similar to the example above in which I fired a customer, there are other times when it’s easier in the short-term to compromise a value in the moment. This may seem innocuous, but it sets a precedent that can prove poisonous.

It’s important to delineate here that values are different than preferences. For example, I value reliable transportation. Red is my favorite color, so I prefer red transportation. However, I will never choose red over reliable. When you are faced with a choice, ask yourself what’s at stake, a value or a preference. You may value things like honesty, integrity, hard work, etc. Don’t compromise your values.

Compromising values in the moment may seem innocuous, but it sets a precedent that often proves poisonous.

8) Doing the Right Thing Rather than the Easy Thing

On rare occasions, the best and right thing to do is easy and obvious. Unfortunately, this is not the norm. Running a business is hard. Being a leader is hard. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, and more would be succeeding at it.

Here’s a huge tip: The more difficult a decision is to make, the more important it is. So don’t avoid the difficult decision. Face them head-on. When you choose the more difficult thing, you learn, you grow, and you get stronger. And often, you realize that it was not as hard as you thought. Build your confidence in making difficult decisions.

The more difficult a decision is to make, the more important it is.

9) Face the Music

Another decision that many leaders struggle with is facing the music…confronting their own mistakes. Many times this is not about facing the music, but facing the people, our own team. The natural tendency is to try and hide or marginalize our own mistakes. However, when we face the team and own our mistakes, we can enlist them in recovering from the loss. The bonus is that transparency will build trust, which is a powerful thing in business.

In Conclusion

Making tough decisions is a hallmark of strong leadership. Leaders must be able to weigh the risks and make decisions that are in the best interest of their company, even if those decisions are unpopular. Compromising your values or doing the easy thing instead of the right thing can have negative consequences for your business. Facing difficult situations head-on and admitting mistakes builds trust and strengthens relationships within your team.

Your ship is either rising or sinking based on your leadership…be a strong leader!