Decision making season is here.

We’re closing in on the end of 2018 and that can only mean one thing. For better or worse you probably have some tough decisions to make.

Are there changes you need to make in your organization? People you need to let go, or new ones you need to hire? Programs that need to be updated? Budgets that need to be expanded or possibly cut? Recent shifts in the stock market might be impacting your end-of-year donations, forcing you to make changes. You might even be rethinking your Strategic Plan for next year.

Leadership is not easy. Good leadership is difficult. Decision making can be the hardest part of all. It may seem like 90% of your day is tied up in decision making. It’s daunting. It’s never-ending. And it can be down right exhausting. Some decisions are simple, but then there are those that eat away at you at night. Ones you just can’t seem to resolve.

What makes nonprofit decision making so hard?

In the business world, financial reports can make it much easier to justify and make decisions. Either the results are acceptable or not. People may not like it, but the numbers don’t lie. In the nonprofit world things just aren’t so black and white. They should be… but they never are. When you’re in the “business” of helping people it can be a lot more difficult to make the right decision.

There can often be difficult tradeoffs to be made — what’s best for the agency, vs the client, etc. Sometimes, the path forward just is not clear, yet a decision is needed.

Sometimes we have to choose between the lesser of two evils. If revenue isn’t matching your budget, what do you cut? People, programs, wages, the number of clients you can serve? Each alternative is equally distasteful, demotivating, and energy-draining. Going home the night after you’ve let some people go is a long, lonely, drive. You might even feel like a failure because you didn’t raise the necessary revenue to meet the budget.

How do you make a decision when choosing between the lesser of two evils?

The best advice I can give is to mentally remove yourself from the situation and ask yourself a tough question… What would my replacement do in this case? Sometimes strong emotions can get in the way of decision making. Using this approach can be one of the most effective ways to take all emotion, all relationships, all loyalties, all preconceived notions out of the equation and make the best decision possible when faced with two seemingly impossible options.

Sometimes we know our decision is bound to upset a few others, maybe even important partners or team members. Making a decision is a very public thing. You put a stake in the ground and others begin judging you. The prospect of being judged by those around you can be daunting.

Deciding that change is needed in your agency is hard because of how many are impacted and the way they will react. Are you ready to take on all of that?

The more a leader cares, the more overwhelming decision making can be. Yet, the more a leader cares, the more he or she must make those tough calls. So what do you do?

The answer, in part, is “back to basics”.

Do you have mission statement? Do you have a Values Statement? Do you have an up-to-date strategic plan? If so, you are halfway there.

At your last retreat, you, your board, and your team already decided what the priorities would be for your agency in this current planning season and how you would conduct yourselves (Values). You all agreed that your decisions (budgets, programming, investments, hiring, new initiatives, etc) and your behaviors (Values Statement) would be based on these documents and you all agreed to abide by them.

If you assess the issue in question in light of your mission statement and your strategic plan, your decision making should be easier. It may not be pleasant, but you can be comforted in that it is based on the plan and path your leadership team selected. Since everyone had a chance to speak when the plan was developed, you can draw confidence from a team decision, knowing you didn’t make a unilateral decision based on your preferences alone.

Remember, no matter how much we might wish for it, there is no sure-fire guaranteed way to make a perfect decision.

Often we can feel so overwhelmed with the day-to-day that making a touch decision doesn’t even seem possible. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to talk the situation over with a trusted coach or advisor. Someone impartial to the organization who can give you insight and perhaps a new perspective. They can also help you think through how to implement your decision, how you will announce it, and how to help soften the blow if there will be impact to others as a result. A coach is there to help you determine what is an ideal outcome and then to build the steps necessary to get from where you are (your current reality) to where you need to take the agency (desired reality).

Are you struggling to make a tough decision, or several of them? Feeling overwhelmed by recent changes in your organization, or changes you know you need to make? I’ve helped many leaders through this difficult situation. If you’d like to find out more, check out Leading For Impact.