Three solutions for a common leadership dilemma

The economy has affected many decisions impacting budgets, personnel, and forecasting. It's time, says John M McKee, for IT leaders to consider changing the style that got them this far.

Let's face it: at the beginning of 2012, the new "normal" is one of uncertainty.

It's more challenging than ever to forecast what's going to happen three months from now - let alone three years. But, frequently, leaders in the IT sector are expected to make decisions today that their organization will have to live with for years to come.

For those in the IT areas of an organization, making decisions has probably never been as difficult. Forces beyond the leader's control such as credit availability and business slowdowns are impacting short-term actions. Plans for the longer term are often being put on hold by company brass who are more concerned with other issues that they deem to be more pressing. When pushed for a decision, the brass may simply punt it back to the IT leader herself or himself, asking, "What do you recommend?"

I hear from many IT leaders that they simply don't have the experience to make some of the required decisions with any degree of confidence. Others are often faced with big challenges even when they push hard for what they believe is right for the company.

Making a long-term recommendation during an economy like this is daunting for anyone. However, in the IT sector particularly, it's exceptionally tough because of the magnitude of both capital and human resource requirements. In the best situation, the IT boss gets together with the other company chiefs to collectively review each department's requests, after which they make the most appropriate decision for the company's long-term health. Unfortunately, such situations take place with less frequency that is preferable.

Additionally, if they do join in, the other department leaders may not be particularly holistic in their approaches. Often they'll be more focused on their department's needs while the IT boss knows her/his decisions can affect the entire organization. What to do then?

Here are three tactics I've seen used by great leaders. See if one or more can help guide your actions through this difficult economy:

1. Bring in the Marines. The US Marines have a tool they teach upcoming leaders called the 70% solution. Simply put, if you have 70% of the information you'd like to have, have done 70% of the analysis you think is required, and feel 70% confident that you are right - then get on with it. The logic goes like this: A well-reasoned decision, if well executed, has a fair chance of success.

Not taking any action has no chance of success. The worse decision is no decision at all.

2. Listen to your coach. Coaches are trained that asking questions is the best way to help another with their issues. In every meeting, with every person, start every conversation with a question.

There is nobody better suited to act as the company's internal "business" coach than the IT head who has the best interests of the enterprise as their priority.  Through asking questions, you will learn the good, the bad and the ugly - helping you to make the best decisions.

3. Trust your feelings. Call it intuition, gut instinct, or "the Force"; you have an internal barometer that helps make decisions and take actions. You've used it your whole life to make everyday smaller actions and now you need to trust it to guide you in making the bigger ones.

Research indicates that we make good decisions based on our education levels pertaining to the issue at hand. So, if you have more experience dealing with a particular department or activity, you'll make quicker decisions about it than others would.

I believe that leaders are paid to make decisions. Today more than ever, we need decision makers.  Act like a leader.


Leadership Coach


John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...


It is a cliche, but Senior IT staff need to talk in business terms, not technology terms. Decision making: Use Risk Management. If you don't actually know what I mean by this, go and do a course of study. Good risk management will address points 1 and 3 above and end up with decisions that your business partners or peers understand. I agree that no decision is the worst option but good risk management can turn that 70% into something higher. (PS 70% info x 70% analysis comes out at 49% probability of being right. Not good odds.)


I am just pointing out an un-highlighted point that is made about communication. On going discussions about what is happening with the industry, organization, and the impacts are very important. If for no other reason than to show your team that although the outlook may not be great there is a way out. As a tech and mortgage bubble survivor, I have experienced business managers becoming unresponsive toward IT requests for operational input as these people became more focused on their personal wellbeing rather than the business. In these situations, I had to not only start many of the conversations with questions, but be sure to extract (as in teeth pulling) an understanding, if not a consensus, for my end decision. By keeping communications open, the managers were onboard with the decisions and also helped to re-engage in the business since they now had a focus.


when it comes to making important decisions?


In my experience, it is sometimes desirable to ride out a situation. I do think it's important to pursue inaction consciously, rather than as a consequence of "analysis paralysis". As an aside, I have seldom been impressed with vendor reps who come in with a new Android phone or iPhone or the newest tablet, and when I ask a question they don't have an immediate answer for, I watch them frantically fumble with their device to perform a web search to answer my question. Hell, I can usually do that on my own at my desk. Call me old fashioned, I am more impressed with knowledgeable vendors who get back to me in a reasonable amount of time. I am less impressed with someone trying to bamboozle me because they have a neat gadget (where are the handwriting recognition devices like Newton's and Palm devices today - even 15 years ago people had to try to learn to write differently - such a waste of time just to seem "hip"). I pity the IT departments who have to drop attention to valuable organizational programs to support the new generation of "nifty" devices just because some Einstein got it in his/her head that such devices suggest tech savvy when it may actually suggest an organization "infected" by attention deficit disorder.


I completely agree with Magic_8_Ball. Communication is the key! I have faced some problems in my early days in my current company until I've started asking for weekly brainstorming meetings and increase the communication frequency and channels between different departments which solved many problems!

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