Good Habits #12: Ability to Make Hard Decisions

By | May 13, 2015

[May 13, 2014] One of the first commanders that I worked for shortly after my commission to Second Lieutenant was a great guy and family man. He was the kind of person you could have a beer with and enjoy watching the football game on television. However, as a leader he had one major flow; he could not make hard decisions that required moral courage. The problems that caused were incalculable.

Leaders exist at many levels in an organization and they report upward in what we call in the military a “chain of command.”   People tell us about how important good daily habits are for a successful and appreciated leader, but none will tell us how to separate the good from the great leaders … those that can make really hard decisions. Only the best can make difficult choices and do so with courage, compassion, and at the same time take care of their workers.

My commander made decisions and some of them required exceptional analytical skill and a clear understanding of our headquarters’ directives. He could do this well. The problem was that if a tough decision was required, one that involved putting forth moral courage, he simply could not make a decision. Things would hang unsaid and undone for the unit. It was like a pause button had been hit and everything was on hold.

The soldiers considered him weak.1 Leaders in my unit were also frustrated by the indecisiveness on select issues. Nearly everyone has had this experience. We find leaders who cannot make decisions when they personally have something at risk and they fail because they fear losing their careers. This fear is difficult to overcome and some leaders cannot make the leap.

I was fortunate that my commander was eventually transferred to a staff position and we received a new commander; a captain who we all appreciated for his ability to be decisive and could make hard decisions regardless of the circumstances. All our junior leaders learned an invaluable lesson and that no decision sometimes means that a de facto decision has been made; one that they may not want.

The inability to make hard decisions that require moral courage is not only found at the junior leader level but can be found anywhere, including high ranking leaders. Later in my military career I had a Flag Officer as my commander who could not make hard decisions and a soldier died indirectly as a result. Such is the disheartening results when leaders fail to be decisive. People will suffer when there is indecision, the very thing those leaders are often trying to avoid.

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[1] The unit was an Infantry Company and was composed only of men. Today, Infantry units remain a men-only occupational skill.

Good Habits #1: Never Assume Anything:

Good Habits #2: Walk Around and Talk with People:

Good Habits #3: Read Mission-Related Material:

Good Habits #4: Take the Initiative:

Good Habits #5: Effective Use of Time:

Good Habits #6: Show the Human Side:

Good Habits #7: Speak Properly:

Good Habits #8: Transparency:

Good Habits #9: Continuous Learning:

Good Habits #10: Make No Excuses:

Good Habits #11: Thinking Out Loud:



Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I provide one article every day. My writings are influenced by great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jung, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Jean Piaget, Erich Neumann, and Jordan Peterson, whose insight and brilliance have gotten millions worldwide to think about improving ourselves. Thank you for reading my blog.

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