Difficult Decisions For Leaders
“And this is the third question in the series on leaders and leadership” I told Lulu, my parrot. The previous two were Power And Leaders and Mindset of Great leaders .
“What’s the third question?” Lulu stopped nibbling a guava fruit and looked at me.
“The question is ‘What is the most difficult decision a leader makes?’ I wonder what’s the answer. Most of his decisions are difficult. Often time decides whether a leader is right. There is so much of ambiguity and uncertainty he must deal with.”
“You are right, I think. Let us tweak the question a bit. Instead of ‘what is the most difficult decision’ let us answer ‘What kind of decisions are most difficult for a leader to make?’ That might facilitate better thinking.”
“Okay, let me think. Decisions which affect people must be difficult to make, I guess. We read auto makers removing thousands of employees every day. I wonder what they are going through.”
“Are you saying a decision to remove a few thousand employees is the most difficult one to make? Ha, ha! It is made quite quickly – perhaps they do not have a choice – when the circumstances, numbers or facts stare in your face. There might be regret, but difficulty? No, Sir!”
“What! I can’t believe what you are saying.”
“Look, the decision is not difficult to make. It is difficult to communicate. Even decision to remove a single employee is also not difficult to make. It is dreaded because it is difficult to communicate. In these situations, drama and emotions are in full play.
“Let me remind you, the question we are discussing is what kind of decisions are difficult to make.”
“I see your point. I remember the Polyhydron story. This company got in the net of tax sleuths because they engaged in an unethical practice. The Directors then made one decision – that their company will not engage in any unethical practice. This was difficult in business environment which was very corrupt. They suffered but always found a way forward. I guess such decisions are not only difficult to make, but also difficult to implement. Their website makes it abundantly clear.”
“Value based decisions, you mean? Yes, I agree. Have you read ‘Like A Matador On The Horns Of A Bull’
“You narrated a case in that article. A worker meets with accident while on duty and dies. The employees appeal to the MD to employ his wife. He declines to employ her. Instead he her a hefty compensation – more than enough to fetch an interest exceeding her husband’s monthly salary.”
“If you ask a group of people to make a choice in this case, half of them will say they would rather choose to employ her, and remaining half would say they would go with the MD’s decision.”
“It all depends on the value which an individual holds” I said after some thought.
“True. But the problem is that the decision maker often keeps thinking whether he indeed made the right choice – no matter what choice he makes. Such feelings become acute if a calamity soon befalls on the hapless widow. Haven’t you heard of a lady being driven away from her husband’s house after his death?”
“Yeah, I know. But having made the decision, he should not waver.”
“Take Nelson Mandela. During the apartheid regime, the blacks in South Africa suffered severe torture and killings. There was a fear that uncontrollable violence would erupt against the whites. Blacks wanted justice, whites were afraid of violence against them. Against this backdrop Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record, and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as offering reparation and rehabilitation to the victims.”
“He surely did not know whether it will succeed or fail. His decision succeeded! But a fair guess would be that he would have worried endlessly if he had made the right choice among many, and whether it will work.”
“That’s true. When a decision is made, he travels to the point of no return. But a good leader is acutely aware that value dilemmas have at least two right answers. It is precisely this aspect of the problem which makes decisions difficult for a leader.”
“Difficult decision surely. What should he do?”
“The leader should ask for guidance. To his inner self. And to a Guru because he not only guides but his words also reassure.”
“That’s a good solution, an easy step to take.”
“Not really. To ask for help is also a very difficult personal decision. Particularly for men. And that makes two difficult decisions!” Lulu looked at me, and pushed a guava toward me.
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
Very interesting. The question here is a right point to ponder. You have touched upon different dimensions through different examples. It is interesting to study the decision making process of leaders on difficult problems.
Thanks a lot for providing a very good point to think.
Dr Zahid Gangjee writes:
Lulu was wiser than normal in this article!
It did start me thinking as I read the dialogue. It IS true: every value decision has at least two right answers. It’s living with the one NOT made that makes the Leader’s role so tough. If one becomes a rhinoceros and doesn’t feel the pain, you forfeit the title of “Leader”.
Thank you for yet another thought provoking article.
Love – Zahid
Another great article …Leadership has many dimensions and you have touched a chord by mentioning a few dilemmas. Yes Leadership is not always about being popular,cheerleader and in the limelight . The Leader has to steer the Organisation and team thru’ the dilemmas and crises . Every decision will have a great rationale and Logic to offer.
Various stories will keep emerging later -frankly one is not sure how many are really based on facts.
Uneasy is the head that wears the Crown ..the rest can keep debating
You have mentioned Nelson Mandela I am reminded of film Invictus made on him and Rugby world cup I which he tells his black followers that “you have elected me to lead and not to follow ,so listen to me and support south African Rugby team through lead by a white and dominated by whites with a history of apartheid “
DEar VSP, You make everyone think deep with some simple-sounding questions! I was reflecting on my own career and tried to jog my memory to answer this question.. and in the end thought those ‘difficult decisions’ became ‘easy’ once the anchor point was based on the value and belief system we practice. Thanks for yet another thought provoking article.
Wonderfull read. Leadership and ethics are inseparable. A leader who does not think of larger good is no leader. Here the reference to guru is very important. At a juncture where there is dilema even if one thiks what decision the guru would make, he will find the righr answer. Hence it is most important that leaders rise beyond self and leave personal desires behind. Thank you for a thought provoking article.