John Addison: 4 Keys to Great Decision-Making

UPDATED: October 10, 2016
PUBLISHED: October 10, 2016

Great leadership is based on making sound decisions. It’s simply part of the role. But it can also be one of the toughest things to maneuver. When you make a decision, you have to know how long to stay the course and when to reverse direction.

There are obviously simple decisions—the black-and-white variety—that don’t require a great deal of judgment. Those are the decisions they teach you in business school. But in my experience, most of the answers aren’t easy. Decision-making has many shades of gray.

I compare effective decision-making to baseball. In baseball if you get a hit one out of every three trips to the plate, you’re in the Hall of Fame. In business, that doesn’t get it done. You need to be right much more often. At the outset, you might not know whether the decision you made is the right one, so it’s important to be honest with yourself every step of the way.

Below I’ve listed the four tenets of decision-making that have helped me throughout my career.

Related: John Addison: Follow These 4 Leadership Principles for Making Difficult Decisions


After making a decision, you have to be patient and see that decision through. It could take anywhere from a matter of days to several years for results to provide a complete picture. That’s where honesty comes in. Many leaders tend to get so vested in their decisions they refuse to question them; they perceive doubt as a sign of weakness or a lack of courage. Rather than face the facts, they tend to dig in and become, as we say in the South, mule-headed.


Honesty allows you to objectively assess your decisions and when you should consider changing course. Look at the key indicators for your business: revenue growth, bottom-line growth, increased client happiness and overall company health. This kind of critical analysis will let you know if you need to pivot.


Good decisions are contingent on knowing your business inside and out.


The classic business example of a smart course change was in 1985 when Coca-Cola launched “new Coke” to contest a growing market preference for diet sodas. Within three months, the rebrand failed miserably and the original Coca-Cola was reintroduced. Reversing direction isn’t a sign of failure, but rather it’s evidence of a leader’s commitment to keep the company’s health a top priority.


Making good decisions also depends on having a group of advisers you completely trust to tell you the truth. A lone wolf leader can often have a rose-colored view of the situation. Surround yourself with honest and objective voices to gain a clear perspective.


Good decisions are contingent on knowing your business inside and out, through a combination of analytical reasoning and gut instinct. Leadership and decision-making is a combination of these factors, and it’s more of an art than a science. If a decision doesn’t feel right in three months, chances are your instincts are alerting you to a disaster waiting to happen.

Leaders have a unique opportunity to influence the lives of their team members. But the responsibility can also keep you up at night, worrying about results and about people’s lives. Decisions at this level are always big and always critical, but the process is pretty simple: Be honest with yourself and be willing to accept when you are wrong. Focus on the goals and the mission of the organization. Know when to abandon the game plan and make a new one. Real leaders know when to put their pride aside for the good of everyone involved.

Related: Stop Overthinking It: 9 Ways to Make Decisions With Confidence


This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

John Addison is the Leadership Editor for SUCCESS and the author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose,aWall Street Journal and USA Todaybest-seller. Renowned for his insight and wisdom on leadership, personal development and success, John is a sought-after speaker and motivator. Read more on his blog, and follow John on Facebook and Twitter.