b2ap3_thumbnail_162px-Robert_Edward_Lee.jpgManagers need two skills to be successful. They need to be decisive, and they need to be able to cultivate support for their decisions. The two go hand in hand.

Being a manager means making decisions and standing behind them. Making decisions involves judgment, experience, intuition and sometimes dumb luck. While it is important to make the best determination given the circumstances, it is just as important to simply decide! The average company’s workforce would be surprised how often management just does not take any action, postponing or avoiding the tough choices and hoping the situation just works itself out. Of all the choices to make, deciding to avoid making a decision is the worst!

This does not mean that we are advocating making a decision without having enough information to make the best one. It does mean, however, making the best choice in light of the facts at hand when circumstances dictate that a decision must be made. We are not gods, and history is the best judge of whether a decision is right or wrong. But history is kinder to the wrong decision than it is to the decision that was not made at all. The decision by Robert E. Lee to send Pickett against entrenched forces at Gettysburg (and in effect, lose the Civil War) still places him in a kinder light than Union General George Meade whose indecisiveness about pursing Lee after the battle lengthened the war by 2 years.

The other factor in successful management is the need for support from above as well as below. Without either, you are on an island and your decisions will die at birth. A manager needs to know that s/he is acting in tune with the company’s overall goal and plan; that the manager has the support of those above them; that someone has his or her back. The rare manager who operates at odds with his parent is the manager who has some exceptional value to the organization that overrides other concerns. For example, the manager of an operating unit whose EBITDA dramatically exceeds the company average. Over the long run, however, these “exceptional values” prove to be fleeting and, once gone, the forces that have been kept at bay will descend upon the manager and destroy him.

Likewise, a manager needs the buy in of those s/he manages so that their directives are carried out quickly, with conviction and with true intent. We have all seen staff that delay or ignore directives, not because they are right or wrong, but because the staff has not bought into the reason why the directive must be carried out. A manager cannot take the time to always explain each decision to everyone, but if s/he has done it enough so that the staff trusts the manager’s decisions, they will be follow the manager’s lead. To return to 1863, Pickett’s soldiers knew they were marching towards disaster, but they did it for Lee; they knew him and believed in him and the decisions he had made before.

Management must be decisive, must make choices that move the organization forward and must have the buy in of those involved. Employees are most motivated working for managers they see as a true leader. Make that decision; your company and employees will be the better for it!