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It's tough to be a leader today. Business leaders often must make decisions quickly in today's fast, competitive environment, so there's a benefit to having a decision-making model that sorts through the key issues, business drivers and best available facts, as well as evaluates the risks and rewards.

The old adage that hindsight is 20/20 is of little value in high-stakes decision making, as often there are no second chances. And wrong decisions – regardless of where a leader is in their development – can be career-ending.

Strong leaders accept responsibility for their decisions, good or bad, while a weak leader will often try to blame others.

The final decision a leader makes depends on their ability to consider variables such as risk, opportunity, stakeholders and urgency. How they sort through these variables under pressure and apply their judgment will define how onlookers judge the leader's decision-making competency.

The model outlined below can assist leaders to make better decisions on small, medium and major issues. The key is to remove assumptions by asking strategic questions to facilitate due diligence – using good judgment and making sound decisions based on facts, not emotion.

This model describes four elements to be considered and then lists questions to help facilitate a decision.


Human beings got to the top of the food chain because they understood the power of fear. Fear can influence emotions in any type of organization, so to be an effective leader, you will benefit from managing your emotions first.

Questions to ask:Is this a decision within your authority to make? Does it have to be made now? What is the timeline? What are the stakes? Can you manage your emotions and remain objective? If not, who can support you?


Thinking and knowing are two different things. Making the right decisions requires correct information. Mature leaders seek to get all the facts and are willing to listen to others' points of view rather than forcing theirs onto the situation.

Questions to ask: Is this a routine decision? If not, what is the most desirable outcome in this case? Why? What are the facts? What facts are missing? Are the facts available dependable and defendable?


A leader's business judgment affects their future and that of others. Be mindful of the consequences of a decision on all people directly and indirectly affected by it.

Questions to ask: Based on the available facts, what is the best decision? Why? Are you ready to accept 100-per-cent accountability for this decision? Test the decision: Would you want to see it on the front page of this newspaper? If not, why not?


The time constraints and urgency of a decision influence when it has to be made and when it will be implemented. Timing a decision's implementation can be the difference between it being accepted or rejected.

Questions to ask: What's the right time for the decision (must it be made immediately or should it wait for an event to happen)? When and who will be involved in implementing the decision? What level of buy-in from your team is needed for this decision to be successful? How will the decision be communicated and followed up on?

Skipping one of the above questions may be why a decision ends up getting judged as wrong. Leaders' ultimate success in business often comes down to their ability to think strategically and critically, and to be decisive and clear when they make a final decision.

Bill Howatt is the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S. Website: