Leadership is all about making decisions. But before you can make the call you need clarity on whose call it is to make.
Several years ago a previous organization I led had partnered with another organization to present a leadership conference.
The schedule was set to go all day Friday and all day Saturday. But noticing that there was nothing scheduled on Friday evening, a leader from our partner said we should program a concert for that time slot.
And there we stood; just staring at each other, not sure who should make the call.
Ultimately I deferred and allowed our partner to program a concert for that evening. It turned out to be a disaster. It was very poorly planned and executed.
But the real learning happened Monday morning. The disaster had absolutely no lasting impact on our partner. But I was digging myself out of this mess for weeks afterwards.
Because at the end of the day, the programming for the entire conference, including Friday evening, was my accountability. Not his.
I talked to a trusted leadership mentor about this. I’ll never forget his advice: “On every decision there is only one decision-making key. And if you’re not clear who holds that key, things will get very fuzzy, very fast.”
That leadership insight has helped me navigate some tricky leadership waters for many years.
Because when it comes to making important leadership decisions, it’s all about knowing who is holding the key.
In short, here’s what I learned.
1. Always be clear who holds the decision key
Whoever is ultimately responsible makes the call.
2. You can’t share the key
As I’ve written before, there are no “team decisions”. One person makes the call, because one person is responsible.
3. Never give away the key
Just because someone demands the key is no reason to give it up.
4. Key-holders should be collaborative, but ultimately stand alone when making the call
At the end of the day, leadership is all about making decisions. But before you can make the call you need clarity on whose call it is to make.
So take a lesson from my experience.
Because when you know you hold the decision key, leadership doors start to open.