Am I Willing To Make The Hard Calls? (Lesson 2)

I’m guessing that prior to being appointed CEO you have worked as an executive or top-level manager and thought to yourself, “Why is the CEO making that decision? If I ran this organisation, things would be different!”

Why did you disagree with your CEO? Were they giving someone else’s priorities more play than yours? Were they not giving you enough time or your ideas enough consideration? Did they use a set of criteria in making decisions that was out-of-whack?

Are you ready for everybody in the company to start thinking these things about you? Are you ready to feel the scorn of those who feel you wronged them when all you are trying to do is make the best decisions for the organisation as a whole?

Your answer better be yes, or you’re in for a very rocky ride.

Drawing A Line In The Sand

Everybody is going to have an opinion on what you should do when it comes to strategy, and the tougher the situation you find yourself in, the more people are going to want to contribute their two cents’ worth.

There are times when you’re going to have to go against the grain, because being the CEO is not about winning a popularity contest. It’s not only about making the hard calls but also standing by them, unless they are eventually proven unequivocally wrong.

Remember, this is about your customer or client, your shareholders and whoever else your stakeholders are, and sometimes you’ll have to hurt them in the short-term to do what’s best for the organisation in the longer-term.

A fine example of this is Qantas Airways here in Australia. Back in October 2011, the company, led by CEO Alan Joyce, was in a stalemate over working conditions with its unions.

He tried to negotiate with them, but would not meet all of their demands. He didn’t think it was the best thing for the organisation, but they wouldn’t budge.

So, Joyce locked the door. He shut down the airline. There are stories of Qantas planes that were getting ready to take-off and had to turn around and return to the gate.

The first day of the lockout, between 65,000 and 80,000 people were grounded. It was great news for the other airlines, but it caught the attention of top government officials. They worried that Joyce’s bold move was going to have crippling effects on the Australian economy.

People missed weddings, funerals, important business meetings, vacations and everything else passengers need airlines for. Seventeen heads of state travelling to Perth, Australia, for the high-profile Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting were also affected.

After a few days, the independent arbitrator forced an end to the shutdown and everybody went back to work. Eventually, in arbitration, most of what the union wanted was struck down.

Had Joyce not taken his stand, things probably would have ended up very differently. It would have been so much easier on him personally, the staff and their tens of thousands of passengers if he had taken a different route, but he chose the one he felt was the best for Qantas, and was largely proven correct. He was willing to make the hard call.

You may never have to make a call as big as that—at least I hope not. But there are certain hard calls that are the bread and butter of a CEO.