Life requires all of us to make tough calls from time to time. These are the decisions we don’t want to make, often because they hold dire consequences for both ourselves and others.  But leaders are often called upon and even required, to make tough calls for the sake of the people and organizations they lead.  Unfortunately, not every decision pleases everyone, nor does every decision have only upsides.  As a leadership necessity then, how does a great leader make those tough calls?

Great leaders begin the process by not only recognizing but being committed to doing, what is right.  This takes courage.  It also takes collecting and connecting diverse perspectives from the stakeholders and those affected by the impending decision.  Great leaders understand they are not the sole proprietors of ‘what is right,’ so input and insights from others are helpful in forming the ‘right decision’ and taking the ‘right action.’  A tough call may also require a bit of imagination and creativity as each decision and action brings with it a unique set of circumstances and consequences.  Finally, in making the tough calls, great leaders do not let the fear of potential consequences or uncertainty paralyze them into inaction.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Merino (2013) offered 3 helpful suggestions leaders can use in making tough calls.

  1. Perceptual acuity. Look for coming change, identify critical variables needing to be addressed in the decision, and play with varying scenarios before reaching a decision.
  2. Qualitative judgment. Build trustworthy networks and consider diverse opinions, and determine which decisions need to be made and when.
  3. Credibility. Build support from stakeholders, and have the courage to make the best decision regardless of its’ popularity.


Merino, M. (2013). You Can’t Be a Wimp — Make the Tough Calls. Harvard Business Review91(11), 72–78.