Don't Let Monday-AM Quarterbacking Kill Your Career

The sign on President Harry Truman’s desk during his time at the White House said it best: The buck stops here.

Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a small business owner, as the leader it is your responsibility to make the final decision.

In today’s highly-competitive and fast-paced business environment, you need to make the best decision you can based on the information at hand, which may be incomplete or subject to change.

You won’t always be right; no one ever is.

Some of the decisions you make will prove to have been prudent and advantageous, while others will fall short of the mark. Whatever the outcome, after you’ve called the play, at the end of the game you need to be able to live with the final score.

To some extent, all of us play “Monday morning quarterback.” As the CEO of a publicly-traded company, I can tell you that even leaders of high-profile companies face this issue. We reassess decisions to see what could-or should-have been done differently.

At times, it’s helpful to review the playbook from the last game to determine the adjustments you want to make going forward. But if your predominant view is hindsight, it is going to be very hard for you to advance down the field. As the leader, your job is to keep moving the team forward to the next opportunity.

Here is what you can do to avoid driving yourself to distraction with Monday morning quarterbacking.

Having a high-performance team will improve your decision making, from the quality of the information presented to you to the execution of whatever decision you make.

Just like the quarterback can’t win the game solo, you need to be assured that you have the best team possible. If you do not have confidence upgrade talent or put a development plan in place.

I remember when one of our board members asked me rhetorically whether it was better to have a strategy that is 100%, but only 75% executable or a strategy that is 75% perfect but 100% executable. We both agreed it was the latter. The better your team, the better the execution will be.

When tough decisions have to be made, consider who will be impacted and who will benefit.

Leaders sometimes struggle with tough decisions, particularly where the workforce is concerned. One of the most difficult decisions I have had to make over the course of my career is downsizing. This is never easy, particularly when I consider the impact on employees who are being let go and their families. And yet, when the economy slows or business conditions become more challenging, layoffs may be the only alternative.

Ultimately, a leader knows that right sizing the company during a downturn keeps the organization healthy, and protects jobs for the majority. This perspective may not make the decision any easier, but it provides the right perspective for what needs to be done and why.

Know when to stay the course and when to change direction. Even after you’ve made the final decision, it is still possible to make game-time adjustments as time goes on and more information becomes available. But you can’t make a change on a whim, or else you will undermine your plan. Only time and results will tell you whether to stay the course or change direction. Keep an open mind and listen to your team.

Remember that the game is played real-time - To be a leader is to accept the responsibility and discomfort that comes with decision making. Although your goal is to have far more positive outcomes than negative ones, know that the best you can expect of yourself is the best you can do at any particular moment.

As Harry Truman said in a speech in December 1952, “You know, it’s easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you... the decision has to be made." Accept the responsibility of decision making, without burdening yourself with second-guessing the past, and you’ll become a better decision-maker and a more confident and effective leader.

Mr. Burnison is Chief Executive Officer of Korn/Ferry International, headquartered in the Firm’s Los Angeles office. He is also a member of the Firm’s Board of Directors.Leading Korn/Ferry’s transformation as a talent management organization, Mr. Burnison spearheads the Firm’s evolution as a diversified provider of human capital solutions. He brings hands-on experience to his current position, having served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer for Korn/Ferry from 2003 to 2007. Mr. Burnison joined Korn/Ferry as Chief Financial Officer in 2002.