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6 Ways to Execute Unpopular (but Wise) Decisions

Everyone wants to be liked; it’s in our DNA. Nobody wakes up with the intention of upsetting a roomful of co-workers. But for CEOs, making people mad is sometimes part of the job. Although you may want your staff to have positive feelings toward you, being the boss means doing what’s right for the company — and that sometimes means making unpopular decisions.

Certain decisions are unpopular because people tend to resist change. If you propose radical-sounding ideas about where you want to take the company, some employees may balk. They fear what they don’t know, especially when they’re unsure how it will impact their employment statuses.

You can’t assuage everyone’s nerves in those situations, but you can gain each person’s trust by taking smart risks. Here’s how to make tough but responsible decisions:

1. Understand the value.
Take the long view toward how the decision will impact your company. What seems like a good idea in the present may harm your organization a few years from now — and vice versa. Unpopular decisions should serve the overall vision for your business.

I’m responsible for deciding where my company holds clinical studies. I once chose a small, lesser-known clinic instead of a well-known university hospital for a trial site. My team questioned the choice, but I insisted we’d find more recruits at the clinic than the hospital. That prediction proved correct, and my employees trusted my unorthodox thinking in the future. Knowing the value we’d gain guided my decision-making, even in the face of opposition.

2. Combine logic and imagination.
Allow yourself to think outside traditional business models when devising your implementation strategy. Your team still may resist, but you’ll energize them with innovative solutions. But don’t promise value or returns you can’t deliver. The best ideas break new ground while working with the resources available. Be realistic (but not boring).

3. Study previous successes.
Look for examples of how other leaders succeeded in what you’re proposing, and be sure your decision will create new opportunities. Otherwise, you’ll lose your employees’ confidence, and they really won’t support you the next time you take an uncharted path.

4. Isolate the variables.
Consider your decision as a single, nonsequential event. The more variables you allow in the early decision-making stages, the more likely your vision will be diluted. Get clear on what you want to achieve and why you think a particular course of action is best. Then, strategize how to accommodate the potential obstacles.

5. Anticipate the unexpected.
Unpopular decisions lead to new possibilities. Be agile enough to jump on them by allocating resources for last-minute research, travel, and meetings so you don’t miss out when opportunities knock.

6. Prepare to fail.
Be ready to lose something when you make hard choices because change can be volatile. However, your willingness to lose in the short-term could ensure your company’s stability in the future.

Of course, just because you make hard decisions doesn’t mean you have to deliver the unpopular news in a cold or detached way. Don’t just drop a bomb and walk away when delivering bad news to your staff. Explain the situation in empathetic terms and address their core concerns. Be transparent about your thought process, but stand firm on your decision.

As a leader, you must be willing to take the risks for the sake of the big picture. But you also have to be there for your team. Respect them enough to explain your rationale, and they’ll recognize that your ability to make hard decisions is why the company thrives.