Forward thinking: Making the tough call

I never played the game myself.

However, I have a grown son and two grandsons who love it and play it on a regular, ongoing basis. I’m referring to the game of soccer.

The truth be known, soccer is a relatively new sport in the United States compared to the rest of the world. However, its popularity and fan base is growing rapidly… and I have become one of them.

In a brief number of years, I have learned that entire countries come to a standstill during the World Cup. Part of the excitement comes from the fact that games are often decided by a single goal. One well-timed kick can make all the difference.

With such a small margin separating victory and defeat, the decisions made by referees play a significant role in determining the outcome of a match. This is particularly true when two players collide within the penalty box, and officials must determine whether or not a foul has been committed. If so, a penalty shot is awarded, and one team gains a golden opportunity to score a goal.

With tens of thousands of spectators in the stadium, and millions of fans watching on TV, the referees are under immense pressure to make the right call.

Whatever, decision they make will be subject to endless and fierce criticism.

Like soccer refs, leaders eventually face situations that require making a tough calls, like it or not. And each tough call has the following in common – unanimous support for your decision is seldom experienced.

If you make a poor decision, it will prove costly. You will lose sleep over it, perhaps sacrifice finances because of it and maybe even sever relationships as a consequence of it. If made correctly, a tough call will lead to a breakthrough that lifts your leadership to a higher level.

That poses a critical question. How does one make good decisions in circumstances where the right or best choice is not perfectly clear and where so much is at stake? Let’s return to the analogy of the soccer referee for guidance.

A good referee:

1) Makes a timely decision.

A good referee does not wait several minutes after blowing his whistle to issue his decision. As soon as he/she stops play, the official confidently steps forward to signal whether or not an infraction has taken place.

If you tend to dread the finality of taking a stand or callings the shots, you may be tempted to put off the decision. It’s easy to rationalize your unwillingness to decide. For example:

• “That can wait. There is no reason to rush. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
• “It’s such a tough call. It could go either way. I’m just not sure, so I’ll reflect on it for a while.”
• “It’s a lose-lose decision, where someone going to get hurt regardless. So why not put it off and postpone the damage as long as possible.”

If any of these comments sound familiar, your challenge is to condense the time frame in which you make your decision. Although you may trick yourself into believing that “it can wait,” a cloud of worry will hover over your head until you take the initiative to make the call.

2) Refuses to surrender the decision to others.

A good referee refuses to be swayed by the crowd, and makes his/her judgement according to personal observation rather than the emotions of spectators.

Likewise, competent leaders make decisions after weighing the evidence in light of the vision and values. Rather than seeking to please the people or pacify their critics. Leaders ground their choice on what’s best for the long-run health of the organization.

3) Does not say “Yes” to everything.

Soccer players are notorious for trying to influence the officials. For example, diving to the turf in exaggerated pain in hopes of persuading a referee to call a foul. Thus, a good ref frequently denies players’ request for a foul called, refusing to blow the whistle every time a player falls to ground in apparent agony.

In short, you are not making smart decisions, if you are always giving the go-ahead or thumbs-up. By saying “yes” to everyone, you are not being helpful and empowering. Instead, you’re irresponsibly robbing resources from what matters most.

Making the tough call is a regular part of being in a position of leadership – has been, is and will continue to be the case. The good news is that most of us don’t have to do so when everyone’s eyes are on us – like the soccer referees. However, I would close with two final reminders:

• If the decision demands taking a risk, great or small, it’s a tough call.
• If the decision is easy or comfortable, then it’s not a tough call.

Don’t be guilty of confusing the two.

Until next time…

–By Loren Simmonds

Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.

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