Dear Leaders

A weekly letter with actionable leadership ideas.

Why and How to be a Decisive Leader

By Hamza Shayk

Dear Leaders,

Once again, the business landscape is ripe with opportunities for leaders bold enough to risk a false step on their quest for the right course. Embracing safety is now synonymous with embracing risk.

You are tasked with navigating an increasingly complex world. While a cautious stance may seem prudent, don’t fall for it. True strategic boldness lies in embracing a proactive approach. By boldly leaning into the uncertainty of the rapidly shifting business climate of today, you will uncover and seize hidden opportunities, which in turn will give you a decisive edge where others are hesitating.

The reluctance to make audacious moves is primarily rooted in a fundamental aversion to loss: the pain we feel from losing $100 is greater than the pleasure we experience from gaining the same amount (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow). So, at our core, we’re wired to avoid loss. Add being in a senior leadership role, where stakes are considerably higher and decisions have a ripple effect throughout the organization, the temptation to avoid decisive action is often strong.

If that’s how you’re feeling, consider the following study (credit: Elena Botelho, The Four Behaviors):

“Research of more than 17,000 assessments of C-Suite executives shows that among the CEOs who were fired over issues related to decision making, only 33% lost their jobs because they’d made bad calls while the other 67% were let go for being indecisive.”

Here’s the best part: the most common behavior amongst the most successful CEOs is, “Deciding with speed and conviction”.

That didn’t mean that these best performing CEOs made great decisions – or even good decisions – all the time. It only means that they decided and then acted on it with confidence.

They are wrong plenty, but they all believe that a wrong decision is better than no decision at all.

At the risk of being a broken record, if the old Facebook was still Facebook, they wouldn’t be Meta, and/or leading the charge in the tomorrow’s technologies. That’s bold decision making followed by serious action.

The average lifespan of an S&P 500 company, the largest – and, arguably the most stable – companies in the country, is 21 years. That average lifespan used to be 30 years just a couple of decades ago. The companies that didn’t innovate or take bold and decisive action withered away while companies that consistently update themselves with the times – Microsoft, JP Morgan, etc. – continue to win.

What to do?

Not necessary to try and reinvent the wheel (not yet anyway), just start with a few questions:

– How is this problem also an opportunity? (It always is.)

– Where is the industry really heading in the next five to ten years, and how can we lead the way?

– What emerging technologies could disrupt our business model, and how can we leverage them first?

– Should we consider integrating AI into our current business? (Trick question, the answer is Yes).

– What are our customers’ unmet needs, and how can we address them innovatively?

– What data are we not currently leveraging that, if utilized, would give us a strong competitive edge?

– What strategic partnerships or collaborations could propel our business forward?

– What customer feedback mechanisms are in place to ensure we are continuously aligned with market needs?

– How do we ensure that core business remains strong while we explore innovative opportunity?

– How can we better communicate our vision for innovation both internally and externally?

Or, come up with your own questions, but ask, decide, and act you must. For today, playing it safe is the biggest gamble.

Be calculated. Be bold.


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