“Business Leadership” Spotlight

Sam Reese is the CEO of Vistage Worldwide and in a recent article shared his core beliefs on being a leader. My sense is clarity with your Culture and Core Values creates a crystal clear Purpose.


The four drivers in evolving decision-making as a discipline

Today, as an experienced CEO, I approach decisions differently. I treat decision-making as a discipline and consciously apply a structured framework when making choices. My experience has revealed four drivers that influence the evolution of the chief decision-maker: purpose, mindset, rigor, and time and space. The new CEO and seasoned CEO tend to respond differently to these drivers. It took many years to develop and refine my approach, but it allows me to make better decisions, faster.

  1. Ground yourself in purpose 

If you’re a new CEO, you may have developed a form of tunnel vision, focusing on only your department’s goals instead of the big picture. When you step into the CEO role, you have to think about what benefits the company as a whole. That’s one of the big distinctions that come with moving up into the CEO role. The complexity makes decision-making more challenging, regardless of company size.

It’s also difficult to make decisions if you’re unclear what your company stands for. Having that filter is vital for me. When I’m evaluating a decision, I always ask myself: Does this decision align with my company’s mission, vision and purpose? Will it benefit the organization as a whole? Does it accurately reflect our values and beliefs? If I can answer, “yes” to these questions, I know I’m on the right track.

  1. Shift your mindset 

A less-experienced CEO might hold a limiting belief that there’s only one right answer to any given situation. Experience tends to show that good choices come from thoughtful processes, and that there’s more than one right answer. It’s liberating to realize there are many options, and the best one is the one in which you’ve invested the time, energy and commitment.

Putting ego aside is also important. Over time I’ve developed the awareness to check my ego and make decisions based on their impact on my company. A company-first mentality provides the clarity and honesty to approach problem-solving effectively.

If I need to pivot or change a decision, I no longer worry how this will make me look, as I’m doing what’s best for the company — not for me.  That’s operating with integrity, and decisions that you make with integrity are the ones you can sleep with.

  1. Apply rigor

You know you’re off-track when every decision feels like starting over. When you treat decision-making as a discipline and apply rigor, you won’t feel like you’re starting from scratch each time. Rigor has allowed me to make decisions faster and with more accuracy.

Part of the rigor is seeking input from others — especially those who think differently from you — while understanding how to filter and synthesize the insights you receive.

Your tendency may be to talk to as many people as possible about the situation and then make a decision based on what the majority says. My disastrous hire reveals a potential pitfall in relying on majority opinion. In my approach now, I listen to other people’s opinions but process them differently than I did as a young CEO. I treat them as inputs instead of instruction and make sure that every decision I make is uniquely mine.

I also ensure that I have enough contexts to make an informed decision. You have to understand at least some of the details; otherwise, you run the risk of relying too much on assumptions. Applying rigor to outside input makes the decision-making process easier because it gives me clarity and direction.

  1. Allow for time and space

A high-pressure work environment, coupled with the scarcity of time, can cause a new CEO to make decisions in a hasty or haphazard way. As a newcomer to the C-Suite, I didn’t allow myself the time and space to tune out the noise and fully process a decision.

I have since learned to slow down and designate time to process decisions without interruption. I treat decision-making as a marathon instead of a sprint. I set aside a chunk of time every day to engage in quiet reflection and work through decisions. Don’t be afraid to tell people, “This decision is going to take some time.”

Vistage Worldwide is a membership organization for business owners, presidents, CEOs and senior executives with the sole purpose to improve individual leadership and decision-making. We have 24,000 members around the world in 16 countries, over 16,600 members in the United States and just under 1,400 members in Texas.


Ed Stillman is an 11-year Vistage Group Chairman in Austin Texas, retired 3M’er, and Junior Achievement classroom volunteer. Ed facilitates 3 peer groups and works with over 40 members monthly.

Published by edstillman

I grew up in Carlsbad, north San Diego County, lost my dad as a teenager, went into the USAF for four years and hired on with 3M in 1969. Received my AA from Santa Barbara City College, BA and Masters from Redlands University and after 33 plus years, I retired from 3M in 2002. As I look back on my life, I have been creating myself and developing my skill sets to be a business coach and a Vistage Chair. I am president of SEOT, a "personal improvement" consulting firm spending most of my time working with Central Texas executives running small to medium size for-profit companies who are focusing on improving their profitability greater than their competition. My area of interest is assisting senior executives in creating a better balance between business commitments and personal relationships. I also facilatate three leadership labs each consisting of a dozen owners, presidents and CEOs. We meet monthly both in a group setting as well as in a 1-to-1 coaching session. Our focus is to sharpen each others' skills in becoming better leaders, making better decisions and taking ourselves and companies to that next level. Who are we? My members are experienced top executives who recognize that they don’t have all the answers and who actively seek the company of successful peers—both to give and receive insights and ideas. My members mine the 200 plus years of chief executive experience that comes together in our monthly meetings and members are eager to offer their own experience and insights in the process. As a group, we spend our time exploring topics members can't discuss anywhere else. My members have many other places where they can engage in idle, "cocktail party" chatter. Our mission is to provide the setting for discussing the "undiscussable." Where or who can you go to for confidential, honest feedback to assist you in minimizing your personal "Worry List"?