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Welcome to Merge's Monthly Mega Minute - a bite-sized, yet substantial and practical, nugget of information that you can use immediately to enhance your professional and personal success.

A sound approach to making difficult workplace decisions.

A few days ago, I was having a one-on-one discussion with a leader who is facing a difficult decision about whether or not to terminate their relationship with a vendor who is not delivering what is expected, both in terms of service and timeline.  The dilemma is multi-pronged – he doesn’t really want to make the decision (not many people like the conversation that accompanies a termination); he feels his boss should make the decision given that is where most of the complaints are arising; and, he is concerned about whether any of the replacement vendors will be able to deliver what is expected.   His question to me was simple – “How am I going to make this decision?”

The reality of course is that this is not an unusual situation.  As leaders, we are often called upon to make difficult decisions – ones we don’t like, or we don’t want to own, or ones where we don’t see any great alternatives.  Or all three.  And they could be about process concerns, staffing issues, or financial matters.  In circumstances such as these, there is a four-step process you can turn to.

Step 1: Accept that you don’t like the situation.  That you don’t want anything to do with it.  Or that there are no great options.  If necessary, acknowledge all three.  And continue to do so for as long as you want, BUT also recognize that it has absolutely no bearing on the decision that you need to make.

Step 2: Invoke the financial concept of “sunk costs”.  A sunk cost is one that has already been incurred and that cannot be recovered.  In economic decision making, sunk costs are treated as long-gone, and are not taken into consideration when making a decision.  So, in other words, ignore everything you’ve done or invested so far in terms of effort, emotional energy, time, or money.  I’m not saying they’re not important, I’m saying that they have absolutely no bearing on the decision that you need to make.

Step 3:  Write out your options.  None of them will likely be ideal or perfect.  And they will most certainly not be appealing.  But they are what you have to work with.  That’s why it’s called a difficult decision.

Step 4:  Analyze each option in terms of the future.  That’s right, the future, definitely NOT the past.  Overlook how you feel, ignore the sunk costs, just determine which of the possible alternatives will give you the least pain in the future – days, weeks, months, even years – and that’s the one you should choose.  Make your decision, and without regret.

This was the four-step process I gave to my client.  He set aside his personal misgivings.  He let go of his disappointment that the efforts he’d previously made to help this vendor succeed were not effective.  He made a list of possible replacement vendors.  And he selected the one that would meet the most criteria, and therefore should cause the least angst in the future.  Decision made, and yes, he also promised me that he wouldn’t fall into the “shoulda-coulda-woulda” trap.

There are some decisions that can be very difficult to make.  I’d love to know if you find this process helpful or not?  What is your approach to making difficult decisions? Please share, so that we can learn from one another.  Add your comment directly on the blog at

Merge’s regular columns in The Globe are back!

Merge has been a regular and frequent columnist for Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, since January 2014.  Recently she took a short hiatus from writing, but now she’s back and ready to get at it once again.  We don’t have an exact date yet, but we expect that her latest article will go live sometime in September.  We’ll keep you posted!  In the meantime, why don’t you take a quick scan of the great learning content she has for leaders in our Article Archives, which includes her columns for The Globe, as well as for other publications. 

Turning Managers Into Leaders

That our blog is 13 years old this month?!

Yes, our blog is officially a teenager!  When Merge started the Turning Managers Into Leaders blog in August 2009, she was hesitant.  In fact, she only did it only because her team told her that it would be a great platform on which to create a learning community where people could both share and learn about leadership. Of course, back then we had no idea that it would turn into something bigger than anyone of us had ever imagined. Today, hundreds of posts later, we’re proud to say that our blog is a valuable resource for leaders in Canada, the United States, and around the world. Whether you're seeking tips on how to deal with a specific leadership or workplace communication issue you're dealing with, or if you just want to dialogue with other like-minded leaders who understand the joys and challenges of your professional world, chances are your issue has been covered at some point or another. Use the categories or the keyword search function to find what you need. And if you can't find the answer to your leadership question or issue, please let us know, because Merge will probably address it in a future blog post!

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New and Notable Blog Posts Did You Know