16 June 2014
This is one of my regular topics here, but rightly so because being able to make a decision - even a poor one - is beyond so many people and seems to be a greater problem when collective thinking is involved as in the case of an organisation's management.
Corporate inertia is a common failing and often organisations have their decisions made for them by external factors rather than through their own actions. They drift along on the tide and with the wind and survive more by good fortune than any self-determined notion.
There are times when a poor decision might be better than not making one simply because it does cause something to happen, but it is usually a fear of making a bad decision that deters people from making one at all. One of the problems about making decisions is that you will not know until later how good the decision will turn out as it's history that judges the success or failure of decisions.
I began to teach my teams decision-making many years ago and a part of that was reviewing decisions in the light of their outcomes so as to further learn and refine the process of choosing a course of action. Some decisions are easy and some are not and the ability to make the hard decisions is where true leaders can come into their own because there is, at times, a need to be ruthless.
Last week I discussed a quote from Harry S Truman and with him fresh in my mind a couple of his decisions are worth considering. The first is the decision, very early in his presidency, to launch atomic weapons against Japan. Hands up, anyone who would like to have made that call. The second was to sign the bills integrating the US military and federal agencies, this being in 1948 - some 20 years before those of my generation joined in protest marches and celebrated the likes of Martin Luther King. Two very brave decisions and in different arenas - and one of which has been the subject of much revisionism and hindsight thinking. I'll not comment on either, other than to reiterate them as examples of making bold decisions.
It is tough at the top, no matter how small or large the pile you are on top of, and making decisions is part of your territory. Learning how to make the best decisions that you can is important for every leader and it is not about the glory of getting it right or any perception of failure if you get it wrong. It is about learning, growing and making a difference in the bit of the world that you operate in. Making decisions enables you to chart your course and not drift with the currents. So where would you rather end up - where life takes you or somewhere of your choosing?
Of course we make decisions that turn out wrong sometimes even when we have the best information that we could have to decide upon. I have found myself up a cul-de-sac more than once; I probably will again, but I learn from those situations and one of the best lessons has been not to be afraid of making a mistake or a decision that will turn out to be a bad one. Most things get better the more that you do it and decision-making is no exception, especially as experience is such a factor.
John Bowen is an FM consultant