This is How the Most Successful Leaders Make Tough Decisions

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Photograph by Getty Images/Brand X

The Entrepreneur Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “When making a tough business decision, how do you know when to trust your gut?” is written by Simon Berg, CEO of Ceros.

When making a tough business decision, this is my No. 1 piece of advice: Be true to yourself.

Before you can know when to trust your gut, you have to know yourself well enough to understand where on the decision-making spectrum you fall. On one end of the spectrum, you have the highly intuitive people, and on the other are the intensely analytical people.

An analogy may help to illustrate this concept. Take two high-performing basketball playersone who’s highly instinctual and one who’s highly methodical and classically trained. If you ask the instinctual player to explain how and why she does what she does on the court, she’ll struggle to find an answer. Somewhere between her stomach, heart, and brain, something happens that tells her what to do next. This guiding force drives her on, and she continues to hit three-point shots and make great plays.

On the other hand, if you ask the methodical player to explain her approach, she’ll be able to tell you in great detail about her practice regimen, strategy, and thought process. She’s constantly testing her approach, tweaking it based on results, and finding more data to up her game.

See also: The Best Way to Make Fast Decisions

The intuitive player should trust her gut consistently when it comes to making decisions. If she tries to step back and use too much data or logic to choose the right path, her performance will suffer. When reflecting on mistakes, she’ll feel angry that she failed to follow her gut and her instincts. Conversely, the methodical player needs to gather more data and spend time analyzing it in order to make good decisions. If this player starts to listen to her gut, her performance will suffer because her intuition is unreliable.

Since I fall on the far left of the spectrum, I learned to always trust my gut when making tough business decisions. I’ve achieved success throughout my life by trusting my intuition. The times when I’ve allowed overanalyzers and pontificators to get in the way of my instincts, I’ve failed, and become a generally miserable person during the process. For me, failing when I trust my instincts is much less painful than failing when I overthink things in an effort to make a hyperrational, data-based choice, simply because I remained true to myself.

If you fall somewhere along the middle of the decision-making spectrum, you may be wondering how you should know when to follow your gut and when to rely on data. The sad truth is that it’s a much more complicated process for you than it is for me.

Here’s my advice:

  • If you’re an instinct-driven person who respects data, then use data when you have it or until it becomes paralyzing, and then trust your gut.
  • If you’re a data-driven person who occasionally relies on instinct, then use the data you have and go after more when you don’t have enough to feel confident. If you can’t get more, gutcheck yourself against someone whose instincts you trust.


One additional piece of advice, regardless of where you fall along the decision-making spectrum: If you have a tough decision to make, just make it. If it feels tough on Monday, it’ll feel really tough on Friday, and it’ll get even tougher the next week. Eventually, making the decision will become so tough that you never commit one way or the other. The worst kind of action in business is always inaction, and the most successful leaders are the ones who make moves when there are no right moves.

Read all responses to the Entrepreneur Insider question: When making a tough business decision, how do you know when to trust your gut?

What Every Leader Can Learn From Alfred P. Sloan About Tough Decisions by Frank Fabela, Vistage CEO peer advisory board chair.

Proof Data Can’t Always Help You Make Decisions by Morgan Hermand-Waiche, founder and CEO of Adore Me.

Doing This Will Help You Make Tough Decisions by Suneera Madhani, founder and CEO of Fattmerchant.

Here’s What Happens When You Don’t Trust Your Gut by Gesche Haas, founder of Dreamers//Doers.

Here’s What You Should Do When You Have to Make a Tough Decision by Alexander Goldstein, founder and CEO of Eligo Energy.

Never Make a Big Decision Without Doing This First by Feris Rifai, cofounder and CEO of Bay Dynamics.

Here’s How Questioning Decisions Can Ruin a Business by Pat Peterson, founder and CEO of Agari.

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