How Leaders Make Better Decisions

Business planning and decision conceptual image

How Leaders Make Better Decisions

Should you take the promotion? Should you hire or fire a team member? Should the organization go in a new direction? Should you improve your teamwork? These are common decisions leaders have the responsibility to make on a daily basis. And while they vary in terms of magnitude, they all require some form of discernment. After all, each of them could have a significant impact on both the present and the future.

One of the most important skills for leaders to develop is discernment in order to make better decisions. While this seems obvious and easy, turns out decision making is tough. Some research suggests we make as many as 35,000 decisions every day. While it’s hard to imagine the number is that high, “If leaders make the small daily decisions correctly, it makes the bigger decisions much easier.”

“If leaders make the small daily decisions correctly, it makes the bigger decisions much easier.”

In studying the best leaders on the planet to write Building the Best, it turns out they use strategies and tactics to help them discern and make the right small decisions more often. If you want to mimic or learn from them, here are a few of my favorites:

Transfer Ownership

With the NFL football season right around the corner, Bill Belichick has some interesting strategies for making successful decisions. One of my favorites is allowing his team’s work ethic, competitiveness, and results to make the decisions for him about who starts and who sits.

Belichick gathers his team at the beginning of training camp and shows them a blank depth chart. He tells his team, “I don’t make the depth chart; you guys make the depth chart.” 

By making it clear to your team that they are actually in control of the decisions, you’ll transfer ownership of the decisions to where it should reside in the first place. 

The 40-70 Rule

In our virtual leadership workshops, I coach leaders to leverage Colin Powell’s 40-70 Rule when making a decision, then running it through both the short and long-term ramifications. If you aren’t familiar with the 40-70 Rule, Powell says, “Every time you face a tough decision, you should have no less than forty percent and no more than seventy percent of the information you need to make the decision.”  

If you decide with less than forty percent of the information, you are taking a wild guess, but if you wait until you have over 70% of the information, you are making it too late. 

The art of this rule is using both your intuition, experience, expertise, and also the priorities of short vs. long-term ramifications. The 40-70 Rule is a powerful strategy to get comfortable with making smarter decisions before it’s too late. 

Uncomfortable Pause to Wait for Rational Thinking

One of the most significant mistakes leaders make is allowing decisions to be made solely based on emotion. Emotional decisions are made swiftly and are reactive. While this can be useful when there’s immediate danger, it’s almost always a poor method over making business decisions.  

Leaders embrace the responsibility of making big decisions, but they’re never made only with emotions.

Removing all emotion from a decision isn’t possible. In fact, I’ve seen emotions lead to a long-overdue decision. Instead of trying to remove all emotions, a better strategy is to acknowledge your emotions. Pay attention to your feelings and how they may be impacting your thoughts. Then, embrace an uncomfortable pause and elevate your rational thinking by listing out the actual pros and cons so you can make the best decision possible.  

Seek Wise Perspectives

Someone has to own the process and make the decisions, but rarely do great leaders make decisions on their own. Almost every great leader I have interviewed surrounds themselves with a trusted inner circle who helps guide their decision-making process. 

Most of the time, this inner circle includes a professional coach, a mentor with more experience, a spouse, and/or colleagues.  

As your decisions get larger, be sure you have a similar group of people to help you think logically and from all angles. 

Consider the Worst Outcome Not the Best

I have written at length about how the best leaders are optimistic and have an intense desire to win. This means more often than not, they are thinking about all the good things that will happen as a result of their decision, not the alternative.

To counteract this, an effective strategy when making a decision is to write down the worst possible outcome of a decision. My experience has been that the worst possible outcome is rarely catastrophic. Most decisions aren’t life or death.

As long as your intentions are in the best interest of the greater good and not to serve your self-interests, considering the worst outcome will free you up to make the best decision possible.


Our days are filled with decisions, both big and small. Lean into the discernment process by leveraging some of these strategies to set you and your team up for success.

I am working on doing a better job of engaging with readers of the Building the Best Newsletter on LinkedIn. If you see this, do me a favor and answer this question in the comments below.

What strategies do you use, or have you seen other great leaders use to make great decisions?

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About the Author: John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping improve the performance of struggling managers. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of  Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.