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

UPDATED: June 8, 2023
PUBLISHED: September 12, 2016

Doing the right thing is not always easy, nor is it always obvious. Most tough decisions are pretty nuanced and fraught with challenges. At the outset, it’s critical you understand your motives in making a decision and ask yourself whether what you have settled on is in the best interest of the organization.

Related: John Addison: Why Real Leaders Do What Is Right

And part of that is cultivating a long-term view of your business.

One of the most important things separating true leaders from bosses is the ability to look over the horizon and position your team for the future. Your job is to leave the organization better than you found it. You are its steward. Leave a legacy you will be proud of.


Your job is to leave the organization better than you found it. You are its steward.


Leaders are pushed to perform for the short term—to beat last quarter’s earnings and reduce unnecessary costs—and you have to manage that reality and perform. But you also have to focus on the health of the organization and the people who comprise it. A leader is responsible for people’s lives, from investors and employees to salespeople and interns. It’s imperative you are constantly thinking two, three or four moves ahead, all directed toward a healthy future outcome.

That’s what I had to do when we were trying to get our financial services company to go public at the height of the 2008-2009 financial collapse. There were several deals that would have made me a lot of money, but that also would have resulted in laying off most of the employees in our home office. I knew our company needed to be on its own—free to grow, to preserve its unique culture and to maximize its flexibility. We had 300 employees who had grown with the company for more than 30 years. It was my responsibility to steer our ship to a safe harbor.

We persevered through this battle and ended up with an incredibly successful initial public offering. Today the vibrant stand-alone company and its stock continue to grow. And we saved 2,000 jobs.

I’m proud of the decision to deliver a successful IPO on our own because it was based on doing the right thing for everyone involved.

When making difficult decisions, keep these four leadership principles front and center:

  1. Create a great culture and a stable, safe and growth-oriented environment.
  2. Position the company to be a good corporate citizen, making sure it has a healthy bottom line within a people-first culture.
  3. Stay grounded. Realize the extent of your role and don’t let your ego get in the way. You are here to inspire growth and nurture the company’s long-term well-being.
  4. Be transparent and honest. Tell the truth even when it’s not convenient.

Honoring the principle of doing the right thing almost always delivers a sound decision, one invariably focused on what is in the best interest of the company. After all, a business isn’t an organization, it’s an organism—a living, breathing compilation of the people who constitute it.

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

John Addison is the Leadership Editor for SUCCESS and the author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, a Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-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.