Coaching Article – The 5-Step Formula for Leadership Decision-Making

Think how it feels when you make a great decision—that warm and fuzzy feeling of satisfaction that everything worked out perfectly. I wish I could hit a homerun on every decision I make, don’t you?

Making good decisions is crucial to having a good life and a successful career.

Bad leadership choices can bring disappointment, pain and suffering not only to oneself, but almost always drags many others into the negative consequences. [Tweet This]

In the first half of my career in the military, we were trained to make good choices because our ultimate preparations were focused on sound decisions and successful execution in life-and-death situations.

The Power of Clarity

Post-Vietnam War photo of T38s in a flight formation.

As an Air Force fighter pilot, we usually flew in two- or four-ship formations (never fight alone if you can help it). Our missions always began with a briefing, and it covered how it would be executed. Primarily, it was to make sure that the team was completely aligned on the mission regarding goals, concerns, limitations, and even emergency procedures if things went awry. This process of clarifying the mission, purpose and goals, sharing relevant information, considering possible barriers or threats and alternative responses, enabled the flight members to walk out to our aircraft with good preparation and mental alignment. Most importantly, it prepared the leader and his followers for making quick sound decisions that would result in mission success.

After the mission, we all went back to the briefing room for the debrief. Debriefs were an amazing experience because we hit the good, the bad, and the ugly. We reviewed what went well and what did not and identified the core causes for problem issues and how to prevent them next time.  And one of the most important aspects was that it was a level playing field. Colonels and lieutenants were expected to speak up and take ownership when mistakes were made, and there was no reticent hesitation to confront them when they didn’t. Though the level playing field was supported and encouraged, ultimately the ownership for the mission and all the decisions that were made was one person—the flight lead.

This brief/debrief process was a powerful experience that helped a somewhat spontaneous young kid like me become a more planned and reliable decision-maker.

Here’s my 5-minute coaching clip on this topic where I go deeper on this subject –

My Mentor’s Decision-Making Formula

In reflection, there is a lot we can learn about good decision makers from our leaders, mentors, and role models. I’ve been blessed with many great leaders and their example is the foundation for my continued day-to-day self-coaching and growth.

Change of command when I succeeded Dick O’Grady as commander of the 560th Flying Squadron at Randolph AFB.

I always remember Col. Dick O’Grady who was my boss twice and my peer three times and my friend for more than 40 years. When facing an important decision, here is how he handled it.

  1. He gathered information. He consistently reached out to his team to get ideas, data and insights on the problem and potential solutions.
  2. He analyzed the risk versus reward and how different solutions would help us achieve our mission, whether it was at the strategic 100,000’ level or the immediate 5,000’ tactical level of day-to-day management.
  3. He sought wisdom and pursued good judgment. In staff meetings, he listened to others, but his natural bent was to be very decisive and quick to act. He knew that this natural behavior meant potentially moving too quickly before considering the human impact of those involved. So, it was common for him to pull aside one of his close confidants and ask them for their input. And he listened. He knew that he could come on too strong at times, so he used us to help him see things from other perspectives so he could operate wisely.
  4. He made a decision and acted confidently. Once he had sorted it all out and listened to other perspectives, he made a decision and his team began to develop the plan and execute it.
  5. He was open to the debrief process. He and the leadership team would sit around and discuss key points—how is it working and how could it be done better? We were always working to improve.

Bringing it All Together

Reflecting back, Col. O’Grady was able to consistently follow this process because he was both highly confident and very humble. He believed in himself to the point that he could be vulnerable, and all that enabled him to listen, learn, and be honest about his mistakes.

Confident yet humble and vulnerable leaders are the ones that we trust, respect, and remember even years after they have flown west. [Tweet This]

Now as a leadership coach, speaker, trainer, writer, and coach, I’m confident that the principles and experience that I share are sound principles and methods. But following these steps is not always easy.  The truth is I’ll be working to make good decision the rest of my life. I challenge and encourage you to do the same.

So, here’s the bottom line. It’s important to be decisive, but it’s also critical to make decisions based on good information and wise considerations that are grounded in strong values and good character.

It takes being intentional and it takes courage. So, lets step out and engage with honor.

NOTE: if you want to listen to (or read) a great fighter-pilot story that involved a life and death decision, check out my friend George Nolly’s story.

LE [Tweet this Article]

Use This Model for Your Leadership Decision-Making

Thousands of leaders and teams are already using Courageous Accountability Model to manage team communication and decisions:

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Begin using it immediately in your day-to-day decision-making and witness the results of better team performance and results. We offer three options–choose the one that best fits your objectives and goals:

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2 Comments on “Coaching Article – The 5-Step Formula for Leadership Decision-Making

Brandy Robinson
January 19, 2022 at 11:45 pm

Sir, the first time I learned your name I was able to see you speak in person at Kirtland Air Force Base. You inspired me! You are probably the most amazing man I have ever been able to listen to, read your books, and then follow with your monthly videos on leading with courage. This month is the first month I’ve replied, but I feel like my reasoning is deep down more sincere than ever thanking you for teaching me and leader ship skills. I think you hinted at some information that you will be retiring soon. Congratulations! What you have done for your country, for your military, for the people of the US, and for all of us that work to follow in your footsteps, you have done more than enough. I’m not sure the decisions you need to make, but I know as an amazing leader as you are, you will most certainly make the right ones. Enjoy your family. You have an amazing one from what you’ve spoke of. Your legacy is here with us in our hearts and I feel that it will never fade. Not only from your books, but from what you have taught us to pass on to our Airman. Thank you so much for being the most wonderful person that you could actually be in passing that along to us that strive to only be an ounce of what you have become.
Thank you,
MSgt Brandy Robinson
Flight Chief, Financial Operations

Kevin Light
January 20, 2022 at 9:13 am

Hi Brandy – thank you for your kind words! I’m on the Leading with Honor team, and we’ll make sure that Lee receives your message. Good news–he is not planning to retire anytime soon. Please keep in touch with us.


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