“What actually sets apart most successful CEOs is the speed—not necessarily the quality—of their decisions.”

Having earned her MBA at Wharton, Elena L. Botelho has now advised over 200 CEOs and boards in nearly two decades, first as a strategy consultant at McKinsey and currently as a senior partner at ghSMART. She is the co-author of The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviors that Transform Ordinary People into World-Class Leaders, and when the book became an official selection for the Next Big Idea Club, Elena stopped by to offer an exclusive set of Insight Videos, one of which we’re proud to share below.

We count on CEOs to make decisions and set a company’s direction, so we weren’t surprised when decisiveness popped up in our research as one of the four key behaviors that differentiate successful CEOs.

What we expected to find is that they made better decisions—that they were right more often than not. But we were surprised to find that what actually sets apart most successful CEOs is the speed—not necessarily the quality—of their decisions.

So how is it that these effective CEOs are able to be more decisive? Well, they do three things really well.

One: They’re willing to make decisions faster.

With the same amount of information and in the same environment, some people are just more willing to make a call—even when they’re not sure—and others will continue to boil the ocean forever.

Two: They push themselves to make fewer decisions.

In [The CEO Next Door, we tell] a story about Madeline Bell, the CEO of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. When Madeline became a Chief Operating Officer, she found herself in the midst of a raging debate over whether gel or foam was the preferred method of sanitizing your hands. To you and me it might sound trivial, but in a hospital it’s actually a big deal—a lot of lives can be saved simply by avoiding infection.

Everyone was really passionate about their point of view, and the debate raged on for months until finally, her team came to her and asked her to be the arbiter and break the tie. But Madeline looked at them and said, “You know, you’re much closer to the field, so this is not a decision that I should be making. You have all the data and all the information—I’m counting on you to make the decision.” So instead of allowing herself to get sucked into that decision, Madeline made fewer decisions and focused her time on decisions that only she could make.

Three: They learn from their mistakes.

And finally, while CEOs move fast and push themselves to make fewer decisions, mistakes are unavoidable. So [standout, decisive] CEOs have really strong processes to look back and learn from their mistakes every time, to help them become better.

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