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The Key to Making Tough Decisions? Courage

The Key to Making Tough Decisions? Courage
Credit: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek/Shutterstock

The best business leaders are daring enough to make tough, and oftentimes unpopular, decisions, new research finds.

The most difficult part of making decisions isn't figuring out the right answer; it's having the courage to actually act on that knowledge, according to a study presented at this month's annual meeting of the Academy of Management.

When researchers asked executives about their most difficult decisions, nine out of 10 did not identify decisions that were complex. Instead, they considered being willing to do the right thing to be the hardest part.

"In other words, these were decisions requiring courage in the face of some personal, political or organizational risk," the study's authors wrote.

When making these difficult decisions, executives don't need advisers to question the wisdom of making the courageous choice, researchers said.

"What they need is just the opposite: moral support for resolve in making the tough decision — to avoid a temptation, in Margaret Thatcher's vivid phrase, to 'go wobbly,'" the study's authors wrote. [5 Important Questions All Leaders Should Ask Themselves ]

The research revealed that most of the nine executives who identified courage as key to their toughest decisions made those choices without such moral support. More than half said after gathering some background information, they essentially made the decision by themselves.

This doesn't mean that leaders should never use input and advice from those around them when making some decisions. The researchers said executives should go through a process of gathering as much information they can when making difficult decisions, but also need to be able to switch off that process when courage is required.

The researchers found that rather than talking with their peers and co-workers, many top executives turn to outside sources when making tough choices. The study found that the executives in these situations were more inclined to gather information from written sources and from outside academics.

"These kinds of sources may provide the benefits of information available to use for decisions emphasizing courage where the executive wishes to cut back on [advice] from a wide group of advisers," the study's authors wrote.

The research focused on officials in the Obama administration, but the study's authors consider its findings applicable to executives in the private sector, as well. The study authors selected 10 outstanding executives, who were at senior subcabinet levels under President Obama, on the basis of nominations from 54 distinguished current and former government officials and scholars.

Steven Kelman of Harvard University and Ronald Sanders, Gayatri Pandit and David Mader of the management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton wrote the study.

Originally published on Business News Daily

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.