The military is known for producing good leaders. This series features leadership wisdom from former Canadian military leaders now in private enterprise. In each article, a military Leadership Trait will be described by a former military leader, and then applied to business. In the Commentary section, we will discuss how to develop the trait, or how to identify that trait in an interview.
Leadership Trait – Decisiveness
“The ability to make decisions, both big and small, often without all of the information you require, is a critical attribute of leaders. In the context of military operations decisions are often split-second in nature and can have far-reaching consequences (i.e.: life and death) for you and the men & women under your command. Both the quick assimilation of information and a read of the situation before you, coupled with a “gut check”, are critical ingredients of decisiveness. This trait is absolutely necessary for a leader to be successful.
Not all decisions will result in the desired outcome so another crucial ingredient of decisiveness is taking ownership of your decisions and learning from the outcome each and every time, in other words looking critically at your decision when the dust settles. In earlier posts accountability and self-awareness were talked about, both feature heavily here.
In the context of the private sector, failure to make decisions for fear of being “wrong” or taking too long to make a decision because your information is not 100% complete, grinds business momentum to a halt and causes morale issues with your staff. We all hear descriptions of managers as wishy-washy or indecisive or about protracted decision-making by committee; a lack of decisiveness by a manager(s) will adversely affect business results.”
Mark Walden served as an infantry officer with the Royal Canadian Regiment and the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, leading soldiers continuously for 6 years including two 7-month operational tours of Bosnia. He has worked for Procter & Gamble and RBC and is the co-founder and former President of Treble Victor Group (3V). Mark currently works as a Director in the Business Finance Group at BMO and continues to serve as a Board member of 3V.
As Theodore Roosevelt said: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing you can do is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Yet time and again we find leaders vacillating either because they fear the decision is going to be unpopular, or because they feel they need more information. Actually, quoting General Colin Powell, “procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases risk.”
To identify appropriate decisiveness in an employment interview setting, ask “Tell me about a tough decision you made that turned out well.” Follow this up with “Tell me about a tough decision you made that turned out badly.” If necessary, use additional probes like “What made it so difficult?”, “What challenges/opposition did you face?”, “How did you overcome them?”, and “What did you learn about yourself?”