Greg Bustin on What Makes a Good Decision-Maker


26 August 2019


Whether you're a seasoned or aspiring leader, you're in the business of making decisions. And as tough as decision-making is, wouldn’t you love a guidebook on it?

Enter Greg Bustin, leadership coach and author of How Leaders Decide (Leadercast’s July book of the month). In the book, Greg provides 52 vignettes, intended to be read weekly, that feature decisions made by leaders during some of the biggest moments in history—from Julius Caesar to George Washington to Queen Elizabeth. 

“[The book] a collection of decisions in history,” Greg says in the episode. “I wanted to zero in on when the decision was made, how was the decision made, and how do these things that happened 100 years ago or even 1,000 years ago speak to us today.” Read on for an inside look at the episode and listen to it above. 

Will the Best Leaders Please Step Forward?

Greg found seven behaviors that distinguish decisive leaders, though not all the decisions featured in the book are good ones.

1. Believing deeply
2. Confronting reality openly
3. Cultivating curiosity relentlessly
4. Engaging meaningfully
5. Deciding speedily
6. Adapting proactively
7. Executing dependably

There isn’t just one essential lesson for all leaders everywhere; it doesn’t come down to only persistence or courage, for example. 

“I wanted to create an opportunity for reflection in each of these stories,” Greg says. “It’s designed to be an appetizer into history.” So, if your curiosity is excited by Mary Edwards Walker, the only female recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, go look up the other books about her from Greg’s massive bibliography and enjoy her story in full.

Tiny Decisions, Huge Impact

Some of the leaders in Greg’s book wouldn’t have thought they were making important decisions. For example, the Beatles auditioning George Martin? Not your traditional leadership story.

“Everything is a lesson. Everything is a test. Everything that happens, there's something out there that you can glean from it,” Greg says. Better decisions in everyday life can sometimes turn into world-changing moments.

Greg doesn’t use any contemporary stories in How Leaders Decide because he wanted readers to be able to see how the decisions played out. “Like the decision to enlarge the staircase in the Titanic, which caused the watertight compartments to be lowered, which meant when they hit the iceberg, the flooding occurred twice as quickly as it would have if they had not made that decision,” Greg explains.

Most decisions like that were grounded in a set of values, and the decision-makers were guided by doing the right thing as they understood it. “Knowing who you are, knowing what you stand for, those are important things that never go out of fashion,” says Greg.

We see a lot of bad leadership today, partly because of our move away from the ability to talk genuinely about the implications of decisions, whether large or small.

How to Evaluate Your Decisions

This is a hard one because it takes balance, but you must acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers and be decisive and confident.

How do we reconcile those two, seemingly opposite traits? “It's a very hard thing to be a leader because, on the one hand, you have to be convicted around what you stand for and believe in that. And on the other hand, you have to be open to the fact that you could be wrong,” Greg says.

To illustrate, say two people are standing on either side of a number lying on the floor. From one perspective, it’s a six, and from the other, it’s a nine. And they’re both right. “It all depends on your perspective,” Greg says.

Here are some questions to ask before making a decision, which should help you evaluate.

Before the decision, ask: What are the facts? What are the stakes? Who should be involved in helping me make this decision?

After the decision, ask: What did we learn from that? How do we adjust? What's our next move?

Constructing an Accountable Team

As leaders, we want to assemble our team of accountability partners, both internally within our organizations and externally from those people who can help us look at things from another light.

Accountability shouldn’t be negative, shares Greg. “Let's not hold each other accountable. Let's be accountable,” he says. “Holding someone accountable sounds like you are imprisoning them, like you’re making them do something they don't want to do.” 

It’s better if we all agree that we need to get this done and choose to be accountable for getting it done right. “That's what I believe accountability to be—coaching, not scolding,” he says. Accountable leaders ask questions of themselves and their followers.

Accountability brings an opportunity for us to coach and support. It allows us to make sure we've put people in positions to be successful and that we have equipped them to execute at a high level.

You also need to understand and listen to your people. “You cannot incent passion. You can only incent behavior,” Greg explains. “As leaders, we need to understand what people are passionate about because that comes from within.”

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To preview How Leaders Decide and to find tons of bonus content, check out Greg’s website. Listen to our full interview with Greg by subscribing to the Leadercast Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play or Stitcher.


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