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Decision making defines the leader

By Harvey Mackay

My favorite "Peanuts" character, Charlie Brown, is on the pitcher's mound and saying to himself: "It's the last of the ninth. The bases are loaded. There are two out, and the count is three and two on the batter. If I get him out, we win!" At this point, Charlie is surrounded by his friends and teammates who are shouting, "Throw him a fastball! Throw him a curve!" And so on.

All alone on the pitcher's mound, Charlie thinks to himself, "The world is filled with people who are anxious to serve in an advisory capacity."

Anyone who has management responsibilities understands that decision-making can be precarious. Choose well, and you are a hero. Make a bad choice, and your career could be over. Is it any wonder that many people really struggle in making decisions?

Or as Yogi Berra said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

After you've done all your homework, when making decisions, I've found that you have to trust your gut. Deep down, you know what's right. If not, I always check with people I trust to give me the knowledge on all sides. Psychologist Joyce Brothers advises, "Trust your hunches...they are usually based on facts filed away just below the conscious level."

Sigmund Freud was once asked why it is so difficult for some people to make decisions. He shocked people when he said he asks them to toss a coin. He went on to explain: "I did not say you should follow blindly what the coin tells you. What I want you to do is to note what the coin indicates. Then look into your own reactions. Ask yourself: Am I pleased? Am I disappointed? That will help you to recognize how you really feel about the matter, deep down inside. With that as a basis, you'll then be ready to make up your mind and come to the right decision."

We grow by making decisions and assuming responsibility for them. You're not going to be right all the time. In fact, President Harry Truman said, "Whenever I make a bum decision, I just go out and make another."

Andrew Carnegie felt much the same way, that making decisions is a measure for success. He said: "It has been my experience that a man who cannot reach a decision promptly once he has all the necessary facts for the decision at hand, cannot be depended upon to carry through any decision he may make. I have also discovered that men who reach decisions promptly usually have the capacity to move with definiteness of purpose in other circumstances."

Strong leaders have no problem in making decisions. They are confident that their decisions are the best. Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, said, "My idea of a group decision is to look in the mirror."

Abraham Lincoln faced some of the most difficult decisions any president has encountered when he presided over a nation that was split down the middle on the issue of slavery.

In 1863 Lincoln, worried about the future of a nation breaking apart at the seams, made a bold decision to take charge, take risks and move ahead. He wrote one of the most profound statements about human rights of all time, the Emancipation Proclamation.

He took these ideas to his cabinet, which then numbered only six. After reading the Proclamation to them, he asked for their consensus and support. The vote, including Lincoln's, was two "ayes," and five "nays."

Lincoln announced the vote as recorded, two "ayes," five "nays." And he said, "the 'ayes' have it."

Few of us will ever have to make a decision that monumental, but as managers we will have to make plenty of smaller decisions that affect the lives and careers of our employees.

James Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape, was a charismatic manager whose maxims endeared him to his employees. One of his favorites was formulated at a management retreat soon after he took over Netscape. It's known as his three-snake rule:

  • The first rule: If you see a snake, kill it. Don't set up a snake committee. Don't set up a snake user group. Don't write snake memos. Kill it.
  • The second rule: Don't play with dead snakes. (Don't revisit decisions.)
  • The paradoxical third: All opportunities start out looking like snakes.

Mackay's Moral: Don't be afraid to make a decision. Be afraid not to make a decision.