Leaders Make Tough Decisions

Insights from our Flip The Switch podcast:

We had a great discussion this past week with Jim Cavale, the Founder of INFLCR. If you’re unfamiliar with INFLCR and how they’ve taken the sports world by storm in the last 3-4 years, go listen to the full conversation here. 

Originally an app equipping college student-athletes with licensed photos they could post to their own social media, Jim and his team have turned INFLCR into a behemoth, helping sports organizations and their athletes to become better storytellers. 

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about leadership, which Jim discusses at length during the podcast episode. It’s impossible to hear Jim talk and NOT think of the word leader. From how he carries himself physically, to the way he clearly phrases his words. His leadership isn’t all show, either, as he’s grown and scaled multiple companies from the ground up, INFLCR as his latest project. 

Jim specifically honed in on the topic of decision-making. In his final words of advice and calls to action, Jim told listeners, “ Leadership takes making hard decisions. Whatever market you’re in, making tough decisions is really important. That’s my call to action. Just make tough decisions. That’s what leaders do.”

We actually cut a segment from the podcast where Jim talked about a tough decision made by Greg Sankey, the Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). While every other conference was canceling their Fall sports, Sankey made the unpopular decision to play. Without that against-the-grain decision, who knows what the sports & entertainment industry would have been like this past Fall? Just like Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID in the NBA set off a chain reaction of cancellations, Sankey’s unpopular decision did the opposite and set live events back on track.  

I believe God gives us the message we need to hear at the right time. Jim touched on this right when there were tough decisions I needed to make as a leader, as well as some tough decisions I was advising on. In one case, there was a situation where money was being offered for a project that didn’t align with specific core values. Had the project been accepted, there would have been an immediate influx of revenue, but a small tear in the fabric of company culture would have occurred. In another case, it took going to bat for an employee when it could have had negative financial implications. In both situations, tough decisions had to be made. That’s what leadership is. 

In one of my favorite books I read during quarantine, “The Hard Things about Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, Ben hits on this topic of unpopular decision making. He wrote, “People always ask me, ‘what’s the secret to being a successful CEO?’ Sadly, there is no secret, but if there is one skill that stands out, it’s the ability to focus and make the best move when there are no good moves.”    

Too often when it comes to making decisions, as Jim discusses, we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves, “that’s out of our control,” or “that’s not my job,” without acknowledging the influence we can have on that outcome.

Too often, we leave tough decisions up to someone else. Another leader, perhaps, or another department. We may throw our hands up and wait until the league office gives us guidance, or in Jim’s case with Name, Image, and Likeness, the NCAA has passively chosen to let Congress decide what to do. 

Our daily lives are fraught with leaders who take the easy way out and let someone else make the tough, unpopular opinion. But at the end of the day, the leaders who stand for something and make tough decisions will be the ones who win out. They may end up with less quantity of followers due to those unpopular decisions, but the followers who remain will be more fervent and willing to go the distance.    

Each and every one of you is a leader in some type of way. Not because of your title, but because you influence change. Whether you’re the leader of a pro sports team or athletics department, the leader of a small team, the leader of your household, the leader of a group of fans, or just the leader of yourself. You’re going to be faced with a difficult decision at some point today or later this week. Avoid convenience, make the tough decision. 

And go listen to the full conversation with Jim.  

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