51/49 Decisions: What Are They And Why You Want Them As CEO

One day one of my teammates walked into my office seeking advice on a particularly hairy problem. At the end of the discussion, she apologized for only bringing me the hard ones. I quickly replied, “That’s what I’m paid to do.”

As you progress in your career, aggressively embrace the ‘burden’ of decision making ambiguity.

That response – while flippant – was actually precisely accurate. The more senior a leader you become in an organization, the more you will be faced with increasingly challenging decisions. The hardest decisions – the ones I call “51/49″ decisions – are a hair’s breadth away from being wrong or right.  Think about it. 

Entry level individual contributor roles are less about making complex decisions and more about following existing processes with a certain level of consistency. Generally, the hardest decisions in those roles are probably documented somewhere on an internal Wiki or are one Slack message away from someone who knows the ‘answer’.

As you obtain more managerial responsibility (team lead, manager), you start facing more “80/20” or “70/30” decisions. You feel that you know the right thing to do but you still want to confirm you’re not ‘missing anything’ in your evaluation as you are in the midst of developing those skills as an emerging leader.

Soon you progress to director or VP level and all of a sudden nearly every decision is “60/40” at best. Each decision requires more consideration as the facts are more nuanced, the timeframes to decide are shorter, or the solutions may create their own, new sets of complications that require their own assessment.

Finally, you reach the top job. While you get the occasional ‘no-brainer’ decision (warning: if you get too many these, you may need to assess your team’s quality or, more likely, your empowerment of them), most decisions are no better than “55/45” with more “51/49” decisions you ever thought possible. Hence, why it’s the loneliest job in the company.

As you progress in your career, aggressively embrace the ‘burden’ of decision making ambiguity because that’s the exact reason why the company needs you in your role.

John Tedesco
John Tedesco
John is a 4x CEO and a founding member of the Arena Partners team.