Bouncing Back From Bad Decisions

Steve Huffman, former CIO, Beacon Health System

Leaders make bad decisions. Hopefully that doesn’t surprise you. Throughout my last 20 years of leadership, I have made some pretty lousy calls, and watching others throughout those 20 years, I know I was not alone. What makes great leaders unique from bad leaders is the ability to regularly adjust to decisions and the environment around them. Great leaders adjust, even if it means adjusting off of their own previous decision.

Too often — and I have been guilty of this — a leader makes a bad decision and then has an irrational desire to lock in and “be right.” There is some false assumption that transparently owning a bad decision makes a leader look weak. If you find yourself supporting one of your own decisions out of a desire to “be right,” you are wrong already. Great leaders realize that it isn’t about them. Decisions that leaders make are for others – members, consumers, shareholders and employees.

Here are a few tips to consider when faced with a bad decision that you made:

  • Don’t immediately discount what others see. Spending time convincing others that the obvious is irrational just because you want to be right burns more time than it’s worth. Use that time instead to consider other options.
  • Listen to your sharpest critics. Many times those most critical of your decisions see something you don’t. You shouldn’t spend too much time in this area, but the weakest leaders tend to immediately discount the loudest critics without listening or learning anything.
  • Be cautious of dropping an anchor that can never be lifted. Leaders need to make a lot of decisions, and frequently they are the ones that have to make the most contentious ones. Great leaders will make a tough call, and the greatest leaders won’t drop a permanent anchor on decisions.
  • Admit you made a bad decision. Every leader makes bad decisions through their career. Own them, discuss them openly, and learn from them. The best leaders do this so everyone around them learns.
  • Don’t beat yourself up — too long. It never feels good to have made a wrong decision, but admit it, learn from it and move on. Don’t make jokes about it months later, don’t let it rule or slow your future decisions, and don’t let it emotionally drain you.
  • Change your mind with good input and great timing. Some leaders get stuck after admitting that one of their decisions was bad by never adjusting with a new direction. They are stuck. The best leaders change their mind and make a new decision and cast a new vision, with input from other input and within a reasonable timeframe. Changing your mind based on good input and direction is not a sin and it should be celebrated.

[This piece was written by Steve Huffman, former CIO at Memorial Health System of South Bend and Beacon Health System. To view the original post, click here. Follow him on Twitter at @SteveHuffman_IN.]

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