The Characteristics Traits and Skills of the Successful CEO — Decisionmaking

Big Red Car here.  Been enjoying cooler temps and a bit of rain here in the ATX.  We love a bit of July rain because it is so damn rare.  More on the way today.  Eeeehaw, ya’ll!

So The Boss was thinking about what makes a great CEO and he has focused on decisionmaking.  Hmmm, so, Big Red Car, what the Hell does that mean?

Well, Old Sport, listen and I will ‘splain it to you.

Making decisions

Seems like all a CEO does these days is make decisions.  Once she has put the Vision thing to bed, then the decisionmaking is in full splendor.  Lots and lots and lots of decisions.

CEOs today make more decisions in a single day than business persons made in a month some time ago.  The pace of business is faster and the decisions are more diverse.

Being good at making decisions is a critical skill for the successful CEO.

It is a skill that can be developed.

The decision making process

General of the Army Dwight David Eisenhower — he of the five stars Generalship, commander of the Allies in Europe, President of Columbia University, first NATO Commander in Chief and President of the United States — had been a staff officer under both Douglas MacArthur and George Marshall.  The only 5-star General to have served under two other 5-star Generals.

[Hey, the Big Red Car knows some arcane stuff, no?  Haha, Big Red Car, stop it.  Please.]

As a staff officer, Eisenhower had learned how to present a decision to his commanders for their review and decision.  He had worked for some very tough commanders.

He preached the catechism of “complete staff work” by which he meant the following:

1.  Identify the decision to be made;

2.  Identify the stakeholders in that decision;

3.  Identify the constraints and resources available;

4.  Frame the question and obtain input from the stakeholders;

5.  Review and evaluate all of the possible decisions including doing nothing;

6.  Present the decision to the decider with all of the alternatives fully discussed;

7.  Make a single recommendation, explain why and be prepared to defend it; and,

8.  Obtain a decision from the decider.

Then communicate the decision to all of the stakeholders, explain the commander’s intent and implement the decision.

This methodology is a good road map for a CEO to develop her own decision making process and to wave the banner of complete staff work.

Eisenhower’s momentous decision to launch the D Day invasion on 6 June despite the spotty weather forecast was a perfect example of his decisiveness, decision making methodology, risk taking and the loneliness of command.  He polled the room and got differing views and recommendations.  He pondered it.  He decided to invade.  The results speak for themselves as the Allied achieved tactical surprise in spite of marshaling the largest such invasion in the history of the world.

Success is often simply the result of making a great decision.  Listen up, Old Sport — good results flow from good decisions.  Good decisions flow from an orderly decisionmaking methodology.

Doing nothing

There is an anecdote about Eisenhower who liked to play golf.  He was playing that day at Augusta Country Club — home of the Masters and which had a tree he had hit into so many times that they began to call it the “Eisenhower Oak” — and a bright young State Department man came to the first tee and told him of some great problem and urged him to abandon his golf game and return immediately to the White House to deal with it.  He demurred.  “Can’t you see, I’m getting ready to tee off.  That problem will still be here when I finish.”

As it turned out, the crisis righted itself.  No action was taken.  Eisenhower was reported to have smiled and remarked that many of the problems presented to a thoughtful President scream out for no action.

Sometimes doing nothing is the right decision.

Come on, Big Red Car, give me something more

OK, CEO, here is the juice.  And remember the juice must always be worth the squeeze.  <<<link  [Haha, Big Red Car, you crack yourself up, don’t you?  Yes, Grasshopper, I do.]

Develop your own iterative decision making process — step by step.  Decision making methodology.

Educate your folks to present decisions to you in an orderly manner.  Hey, you could have been a 5-star General if you wanted to, no?

The ability to make decisions, good decisions — is held hostage to your decision making methodology.  Preach complete staff work and make it stick.

The mark of an experienced and accomplished executive is the ability to make lots of good decisions because they have a great decisionmaking methodology and they have a staff and colleagues who present complete staff work to drive these good decisions.

You can do it, my dear CEO.  You can do it.

But, hey, what the Hell do I know anyway?  I’m just a Big Red Car.



6 thoughts on “The Characteristics Traits and Skills of the Successful CEO — Decisionmaking

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  4. One of the things I ask my team to do is to send me numbered options when they’re asking me to make a decision, and also to tell me how they would decide.

    That allows my email back to be very brief – most often “you’re right” but it’s also simple to just say “2 because X customer needs it that way.”

    • .
      Any method beats no method. Do what works for you. You have a good methodology.

      On huge decisions, it is useful for the team to see how you consistently make decisions so they can frame them more efficiently.


      • Indeed. I’ve been training myself to stop when someone asks me for a decision and say “what do you think you should do?”

        That question has enabled more team development than any other one I’ve asked.

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