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In 2001, EMI Group's Virgin Records label signed pop diva Mariah Carey to one of the biggest recording contracts ever—an estimated $80 million for five albums, plus a $21-million signing bonus.

But when Carey's first album for Virgin Records—the soundtrack to the movie Glitter—flopped, the already struggling company decided to pay her $28 million to end her contract. Since Carey was allowed to keep her signing bonus, EMI essentially paid her $49 million for the soundtrack to a box-office bomb.

Talk about a bad business decision. I'm guessing the EMI executives who signed Carey are still kicking themselves over that one.

The decisions that you and I make may never approach that magnitude—at least not from a financial standpoint. But there's no doubt that our level of success in life is directly affected by the quality of the decisions that we make.

We make dozens of decisions each day. Some of these choices—what to eat for breakfast, what to wear to work, what kind of car to drive, etc.—have little bearing on anyone else. Many others, however, have an unequivocal impact on the people around us, from our spouses, friends and children to our employees, clients and coworkers.

It can be tempting to make such decisions solely on the basis of economics, ease, convenience or public opinion. But if you want to be an effective leader, you don't make decisions because they're easy. You don't make decisions because they're cheap. You don't make decisions because they're popular.

You make decisions because they're right.

So how do you know if you are making a right decision? Here are five guidelines:
  1. Seek out wise counsel. Getting advice from others is a good idea, but don't solicit it from just anyone. Be wise about who you select to be your counselors. Seek out people who have proven track records when it comes to making good, solid decisions.

  2. Look for patterns in the guidance that you are given. I have found that when I seek counsel from wise people, certain patterns or principles often recur. By the time three or four people have told me the same thing, I start saying, "OK, I think I can buy into that."

  3. Ask yourself, "Does this decision match my gifts and my abilities?" If the answer is no, there's no reason to continue this process.

  4. Ask yourself, "Does this decision give me peace?" You know how you feel when peace is missing. Pay attention to those feelings. And never forget this powerful bit of wisdom: When in doubt, don't.

  5. Look for the downside. Throw away your rose-colored glasses and force yourself to play the devil's advocate. Ask yourself, "If this turns out badly, can I live with it?"
These guidelines—as well as other parameters that you establish for yourself—can be a tremendous help when you are making daily leadership decisions.

They're also valuable when you're contemplating deeper choices that pertain to your values and what you want from your life.

Along those lines, I want to close this article by sharing a few decisions I've made that have had a profound effect on my usefulness and fulfillment, both as a leader and as a person.

I decided:
  1. To continue to grow personally throughout my life. For me, growth is happiness. Out of my growth I live, and out of my growth I give. So here's my question for you: Are you learning or doing anything right now that is stretching you out of your comfort zone?

  2. To give and serve on the front end. I'm not going to wait until I get something out of a relationship. I'm not going to wait until I find out what's in it for me. I'm just going to give on the front end—no strings attached. I can assure you that many of the blessings my wife and I have today are a direct result of this decision.

  3. To exhibit a great attitude regardless of the situation. Life can be hard; there's no getting around it. But it's not what life brings to us that determines our success or failure; it's how we respond to it. We often don't have a choice about what happens to us, but we can chose to remain positive, no matter what's going on.
As you evaluate the choices you've made in your life and career, perhaps you also can identify those that enhanced your satisfaction and productivity. But if the bad decisions—the ones that still cause you to kick yourself years later—seem to outnumber the good, today is a new day.

And, armed with the above guidelines, the first decision you can make today is the decision to make right decisions from now on!

This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's
free monthly e-newsletter: Leadership Wired
available at

Author Biography

John C. Maxwell
Web site: Injoy Group
John Maxwell grew up in the 1950s in the small Midwestern city of Circleville, Ohio. John's earliest childhood memory is of knowing that he would someday be a pastor. He professed faith in Christ at the age of three, and reaffirmed that commitment when he was 13. At age 17, John began preparing for the ministry. He attended Circleville Bible College, earning his bachelor's degree in 1969. In June of that same year, he married his sweetheart, Margaret, and moved to tiny Hillham, Indiana, where he began his first pastorate.

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