Leaders Make Big Decisions – Nu Leadership Series

“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Do you ever wonder how making the right decisions plays into being a competent leader? Let’s explore the world of effective decision-making. First, great leaders often find themselves in a crisis mode (do we fight or retreat?) at grave times. The wrong judgment call can jeopardize the legacy of a leader. Therefore, one key attribute would be good decision-making skills. Kouzes and Posner, authors of the Leadership Challenge, advocate that exemplary leaders’ behaviors can be viewed by 10 commitments of leadership. Based on this assumption, I will make one theoretical leap, to say that exemplary leaders are synonymous with good leaders. Let’s now focus on two commitments: taking risks while learning from them, and setting the example with consistent shared values.

Let’s make this connection. I recently read an article that ranked the 10 worst United States presidents. The evaluators appeared to base their selections on the president’s decision-making ability during a crisis. Here’s a partial list for your viewing:

1. James Buchanan
2. Andrew Johnson
3. Lyndon Johnson
4. Woodrow Wilson
5. Richard Nixon

It also appears that these leaders were also judged under an ethical microscope while making those life-changing decisions. Let’s explore this observation more closely. For example, historians criticized President Buchanan for failing to avert the Civil War, while President Reagan (rated number 9) was caught in the Iran-Contra scandal. Leaders should be careful about intoxicating influences such as power. Falling for the short-term gain can create a legacy of problems. Effective leaders make the best of any decisions (good or bad). The hardest thing is accepting the consequences. Therefore, leaders should carefully consider their decisions in a moral framework to avoid the quagmire of ethical confusion. Start today!


Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (1995). The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Dunbar, E. (February 19, 2006). Happy (erroring) Presidents Day: Scholars Rate the 10 Worst U.S. Chiefs. The Knoxville News Sentinel, A12.

© 2006 by Daryl D. Green