PonderThis: Tough Decisions

President Barak Obama is faced with tough choices every day.  His recent decision to withhold photos of known abuse in US detention facilities is a great example of a tough call.  No matter what he chose, he would be under fire before the announcement was complete.  What can we learn from watching such an emotionally charged decision?

  • Let Go of Right and Wrong – Sometimes there is a clearly right decision.  Usually those are the ones that are made for us by clear data and have little organizational or emotional consequence.  In a case such as these photo’s both right and wrong are malleable.  All you have to do is spend 5 minutes on political blogs to see how convinced everyone on both sides is that their own opinion is right.
  • Each Choice has Consequences – Without right or wrong, we are choosing between consequences of each possibility.  What happens and to whom tells us how we would have to prepare for the fallout of each choice?  Which set of consequences is least damaging?  Which set is the organization best prepared to mitigate?  Which ones have the longest and deepest impact?  All of these questions inform the decision.
  • Values – Making a decision on values is both laudable and dangerous.  Whose values to apply?  In a recent speech, Scott Ford, then CEO of Alltel defended his decision to sell the company, explaining that responsible stewardship of other people’s money (in this case, stockholders) was a core value for him.  While I admired the clarity of his value system, I also wonder about the thousands of people who would be impacted who did not share that same set of values.  Others might value the commitment made to employees and vendors who placed their trust in the organization above the interests of stockholders.  But Scott Ford, and therefore his value system made the decision.

One of my clients, the SVP of Strategic Marketing for a large financial services organization (who was kind enough to walk through this topic with me) had this to say as a summary:

“When all the information is there, and all the internal discussion becomes circular, the last criteria for me is simple.  Be certain that I truly understand the implications of the decision.  Who will it impact?  How? How seriously?  What are the short and long term ramifications and what are all of my choices?  Then the last step is simple:  If I choose this direction, how well will I sleep tonight?”

How about you?  What decisions are toughest for you to make?  As a leader, what is your “go-to” strategy for the tough calls?  This is a rich topic for discussion and I hope that you will share your thoughts in the discussion area below.

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