Leadership and the Courage of Decisive Action

Leadership and the Courage of Decisive Action

This past summer, I had occasion to read The Splendid and the Vile, a fascinating and captivating story by Erik Larson, chronicling how Winston Churchill taught the world what true courage and decisive action is all about.

On the day Churchill became England’s prime minister, Hitler invaded Belgium and Holland. The Nazi regime had already taken Poland and Czechoslovakia, and the maniacal fuhrer would bombard England for the next year with a relentless campaign of bombing and torture, killing some 45,000 Britons. It was a time that called for true courage and decisive action, and Sir Winston was the exact individual for the job.

Taking decisive action under fire is one of the true trademarks of strong leadership. Though it’s certainly not the only one, it is a remarkable trait of those rare individuals who can lead effectively, especial when the corner office must quell a crisis.

In today’s world, we seem to be lulled into a false sense of purposeful activity, a razzmatazz of “busyness,” a phenomenon that prompted Bill Gates to remark, “Busy is the new stupid.” Some workplace analysts suggest that only 10 percent of managers spend their time productively employed in a manner that is committed and purposeful, acting on issues that are truly germane to the mission of their organization. The rest, a walloping 90%, are caught up in being “busy,” they say. I would wager that the same could be said of the employee population at large.

As long as we are texting, answering emails, running from meeting to meeting, engaging through Zoom and/or a host of other video conferencing platforms, we appear to be divinely inspired. In truth, today’s work environment allows corporate leaders little time for contemplative reflection. So instead, they end up ignoring or procrastinating in dealing with their organizations’ most critical issues. It amounts to a full employment act for management consultants (like me), but there has to be a better way.

Why is decisive action so fundamental to true leadership? In today’s work environment, leaders will never be equipped with all the information they desire before making critical decisions, and circumstances often change without warning. Great leaders, however, take decisive action when it’s called for, despite uncertainty. They evaluate the associated risks, attempt to mitigate them, and move forward with their plan.

In my corporate work across varied cultures, I have become convinced that successful and sustainable enterprises are the ones that build a culture of decisiveness, based on the principles of purposeful action. It is about a results-oriented environment versus one buried under “activity” or “busyness.” For leaders, it is about building an organization — indeed. a culture — of action-takers.

Determining a plan of approach and getting orders to the troops is not a responsibility for the leader-in-chief alone. All great leaders have a team — their generals, so to speak — to advise and carry out the actions. Ultimately, the leader must listen, deliberate and decide on the best course of action.

Ironically, the ongoing pandemic that forced us to change where and how we work has given us an incredible opportunity to hit the reset button. Leaders can free themselves of distractions and minutia and, in their place, adopt the courage of decisive action. Focus on business instead of busyness, away from social media noise and unto meaningful work that delivers value.  Focus on a culture that is committed to results versus activities.


  • Claire Fracker

    Great article Charles!
    Productivity is certainly achieved when direction of the person in charge is in touch with employees! A company head should be making time and taking interest to share what their intended expectations are for the team and they should also listen to the team or teams input . Dedicated time and interest with employees will result in the success of a business. The action of time and trust together are valuable as well to keep everyone focused on making good decisions to reach their goal.

    November 18, 2020 at 4:18 pm
    • CVF

      Thank you Claire . I so appreciate your perspective.

      November 19, 2020 at 9:19 am
  • Ray Johnson

    Spot on, Charles! I would add there is value in carving out time for creativity, too. Ask questions about a process or policy. Start with, why do we do this? The answers may surprise! Should we stop doing something, so that time can be allocated for something more impactful?

    Love your inspiring take!

    November 19, 2020 at 7:26 am
  • CVF

    Ray, thank you so much. And you are spot on about carving out time for creativity, which in today’s crazy world becomes harder and harder to do.

    November 19, 2020 at 9:21 am
  • Anonymous

    This article should be shared to all companies that are struggling to help turn-around employees. During my time as manager in a office position , that if you treat your staff with respect, in return you have satisfied employees, that will give you their best and your company will flourish.
    All employees should be treated the same, and should be told that no question are insignificant.
    Employers and staff should work as a TEAM, because as we know TEAM means (Together each can accomplish more) i believe the Charles has shown us this in the above article.
    Personally I know of a company who did just that and fortunately, when business, around the area start shutting down they remained open, and still are thriving as of today.
    Thank you for this informative article.

    November 19, 2020 at 12:03 pm
  • CVF

    Thank you Anonymous. Great commentary. Thank you for weighing in .

    November 19, 2020 at 12:25 pm

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