Making the Right Decisions v Making Decisions Right

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Are you making decisions right? Are you taking the right decisions?

OK, y’all, Big Red Car here on a crisp, sunny Texas spring day. On Earth as it is in Texas!

Today, I am pondering a conversation I had last week with a seasoned CEO who I have known for several years. We worked together and I watched him become an extraordinary CEO. It was a wonder to behold.

Early in our relationship, I sent him my standard “beginning a relationship” questions. It’s called the Startup Company and Small Company Checklist.

The way it works is I want the CEO to read the questions to see whether he can answer them. Not to assign homework, but to give him an idea of how others view the framework of a startup. It is always illuminating to have the first discussion after they read that document.

You can find it and other useful stuff here: FREE STUFF

Just scan it, don’t answer it.

Making decisions right

No sooner do we have that convo than I always ask the CEO: “What percentage of your decisions do you get right?”

Inexperienced CEOs usually say “90%.” When I stop laughing, I usually get them to admit to a lower number as their blush fades.

Experienced CEOs usually say “40%.”

Making the right decisions

After we get over that, I ask them, “Are you making the right decisions?”

Then, the conversation gets interesting as we discuss what decisions a CEO should be making. We quickly get past Vision, Mission, Values, but then the convo gets sticky.

What decisions should a CEO be making?

The secret

The secret is this: only about forty percent of the decisions a CEO makes are truly appropriate to be made by the CEO.

How do I know this? Because I used to make that mistake all the time when I was a neophyte CEO. I didn’t know how to effectively delegate.

Let me give you an example.

The blue paint story

Back in the day, I was renovating thousands of apartments in Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. Thousands. Millions and millions of dollars. Hundreds of millions.

My company had a process whereby one team would underwrite the acquisition, another would raise the money, another would renovate them, and another would commission and operate them. Meanwhile, the accounting department was keeping all the numbers straight. I had driven the creation of those processes.

Each step of the way, we had a well-documented, written process and everybody knew where each project was at each point in the process. We were quite pleased with ourselves and we had good reason to be so. We were rocking and rolling.

I had extraordinary people running each one of the disciplines and they were salty, seasoned, experienced, and filled to overflowing with expertise. Hell, I’d hired and trained them. They were world class.

But, one day, I mentioned that I wanted to experiment with the paint palette of one large project in Austin thereby creating a “New England village” meme. I actually said that.

I personally picked the light blue New England village color to be matched with crystal white trim. I was so proud of myself. I felt a twinge of Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark in my heart.

I subscribe to “managing by wandering around” and the notion that “you do not get what you expect, but you get what you inspect.”

The inspection

So, I wandered over to the project and almost lost my lunch.

“Who picked this color?” I asked my top renovation professional and the manager of the property management division. I have dropped an adjective or two for clarity.

“You did, boss,” was the refrain.

I learned a valuable lesson.

What was the lesson, Big Red Car?

I learned there were some things I had no reason sticking my nose into. They were not CEO level duties, decisions, or responsibilities.

I learned I had damn good people who made decisions like this all the time and got them right. I had blown it. [Ugliest color blue in the history of the world. I think God may have recalled that color.]

I had made a truly bad decision about something which was not the right decision for me as the CEO.

When I asked my people why they hadn’t protested when they first saw it, they said, “We just thought you were nuts.”


Here’s the takeaway – if you are a CEO make damn sure you are making the right decisions before you make your decisions right. Re-read that and let it sink in.

If you are batting 40% right, maybe you’re doing a lot better than you think because you should probably only be making 40% of the decisions you currently are making.

Later, we will deal with delegation. But for today, ponder that.

Kick this hairy bear’s butt today. You can do it.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Bite the ass off a bear this week, y’all.