One Essential Thing Leaders Do

Today I want to pose a question, “What is the one essential thing that leaders do, that no one else gets to do?”

Take a few seconds and ponder that. If you have a scrap piece of paper near by, write down what you believe is that one thing.

I do this with groups of leaders all around the country and I get a variety of responses.

“Leaders set standards for the organization.”

“They walk the walk AND talk the talk.”

“They communicate effectively.”

“They inspire people.”

All those things are true, but back to talking about fundamentals, the one thing that leaders do that no one else gets to do, is…

Leaders decide and they decide when they are going to decide.

Okay, but how much information do they require? Well, for any decision you’re never going to have all of the information that you’d like to have to be 100% certain of the choices you’re about to make.

General Colin Powell used to say that P= 40 to 60. The probability of success was when you had about 40-60% of the information that you’d like to have, but then it was time to make a choice.

I sometimes wonder that if all the technology of the 21st century is actually working against us. Having access to massive and endless information at our fingertips may encourage us to delay in making a choice. We can get one more piece of information. We can do one more data search. We can read one more article. Not only does this delay our decision-making, but it’s spending (wasting) time along the way.

A leader controls the clock for their organization. And time is a resource, just like people, money, and capital items. Time is a precious resource and perhaps of all those resources the most inelastic.

We know that the perfect plan or perfect decision is never made because we’re still trying to make it perfect. In the military we had a method of thinking about this, which I find useful and I share with organizations often. We call it the 2/3 and 1/3 rule. If I think about where I am now and how much time I’ve got until my organization or team begins doing something, then 2/3 of the time between now and then belongs to them. I have 1/3 of the time to make my decision and outline the approach I want to use. And then I have to brief them. 2/3 of the time allows them to think through second and third order effects, necessary resources, and brief other people as required. I think that’s a useful way to think about decision-making for any leader in any organization.

Fundamentally, never forget that the one thing leaders do that no one else gets to do is make decisions. It can make life a little lonely. It also is a function of how much risk a leader wants to take. But it’s still an essential aspect of your leadership.

We want to hear from YOU! Do you agree or disagree that decision-making is one essential thing leaders do? Share your comments below.