Leadership Caffeine: 6 Key Decision Areas that Shape You as a Leader

image of a coffee cupThe Leadership Caffeine series is approaching 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

There are a number of decisions in every leader’s life that stand head and shoulders above all others. These are the decisions that change the trajectory of people, teams and organizations and on a bigger stage, nations. As you navigate your career and your growth as a leader, be prepared to stand up and be counted on these challenging issues:

6 Key Decision-Areas that Shape You as a Leader:

1. We’ll Go decisions. Eisenhower faced a split vote of his senior advisors and a weather forecast that was anything but agreeable leading up to the fateful moment to commit nations and the lives of many to the invasion on D-Day.

While our business choices pale in comparison to the commitment of lives that Eisenhower faced, we are accountable for the fortunes of the people who have committed themselves to our cause. All senior managers face critical, challenging strategic choices and the corresponding commitment of funds, talents and resources at the expense of other opportunities. From what products to develop and what markets to attack or leave behind to potential acquisitions and partnerships, the choices of what to do and what not to do are always surrounded by foggy weather and uncertain outcomes.

2. Who to Grow and How to Support Their Growth issues. The talent you invest in developing and the professionals you acquire in the marketplace play a huge role in your and your firm’s success or failure. Developing others is more than the pursuit of checkbox compliance. It requires active assessment and decision making for:

-Understanding the skills and capabilities needed to promote growth and support change.

-Developing an understanding of the values, character and culture fit of the people on your team.

-Deciding fairly and equitably who has to go.

-Answering the “how” question when it comes to choosing the experiences and opportunities that best fit each individual.

-Sustaining the coaching and behavioral feedback over a long period of time.

3. When to Trust decisions. Real leadership involves letting go and trusting others to apply their skills to solving complex problems that you are accountable for. There’s no more frightening moment in time for some than the moment when they take their hands off the wheel and let someone else steer. It’s counter-intuitive to our common sense and even our survival skills and in many circumstances, it’s the absolute right thing to do.

4. Navigating Successfully through the Gray Zones.  Ethical and values calls have an annoying habit of appearing gray. You’ll be challenged over and over again during your career to cut through the gray and assert a black or white call. Head in the wrong direction away from goodness and you’ll struggle to return. Sadly, many of the right calls will potentially involve going against the grain of prevailing opinions on your team and with your peer group. Courage is required to navigate these treacherous waters!

5. Deciding What Kind of a Leader to Be and Then Working At It. Too often, people in senior roles allow circumstances to determine their leadership styles and approaches. The pursuit of the urgent and the demands of the political environment exert pressure on how we conduct ourselves. I run an exercise in many of my leadership workshops where I ask individuals to project themselves forward to their retirement parties and to eavesdrop in on what people are saying about them as a leader. As you might imagine, the conversations are always “noble and gratifying.” Many who run through this recognize the contrast between what they want to be known for versus how they are conducting themselves. The realization that each of us are responsible for our own legacy is profound for some.

6. Learning to Accept and See Your Own Blind Spots.  We all have to make a decision to see ourselves as fallible humans with shortcomings or, to fall victim to delusional thinking about our own capabilities. Many who climb the managerial ladder fall victim to the latter. We all face a decision on our view to ourselves, and this decision has a powerful impact on how we conduct ourselves as leaders.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The transactional and managerial decisions that fill our days are important, but they aren’t the decisions and issues that challenge us to be move towards effective or even great. Those are reserved for the topics of people and strategy and for our personal calls on growth, values and ethics. Admission to the role of true leader involves staring down and navigating these issues without blinking. And yes, you will fail and flail from time-to-time. Welcome to leadership.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

Order one or both books for your team. Contact Art.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.


  1. Dave Dobson says:


    I particularly like #5. I recall a conversation with you many years ago, during a difficult time for me, where my eyes were opened regarding how I was perceived. It certainly did not match up with my own view, and it was not aligned with my true intentions. It’s clearly a case, sometimes, where the end does not justify the means. With the best of intentions, we think we are doing what is best for people, and they just don’t see it that way. The more difficult and time-consuming path is to not just have a vision of where the team needs to be, but also to work with them on establishing the vision and goals, so they can buy in. I want to have people, at my retirement party (many many years from now), remember my contributions toward their professional development and growth. I think that everything else falls into place if you make that task priority 1.


Speak Your Mind