Sunday, April 2, 2023

When Tough Decisions Must Be Made: Overcoming the Challenges

By on January 28, 2021

Photo by Jens Lelie on Unsplash

By Félix E. De Jesus 

Tough decisions are made by individuals to solve not only the most difficult problems, but also to guide the future path of organizations. The process of making tough decisions could be a rigorous endeavor for many people. It requires a unique set of skills, attributes and knowledge. Because even in an era of advanced technology – there is no algorithm to solve life’s complex challenges.  

Decisions are being made at personal, group and organizational levels every day around the world. Humans are supposed to look ahead, see the bigger picture, understand the greater vision, and make wise decisions. Every decision – made or not made – will have consequences. For some, the painful result of making a bad decision will come back to haunt them forever. Ironically, we will all learn that lesson during our journeys through life. 

Leaders at the highest echelon of society either, distinguish or mark themselves, by the difficult decisions they make, decisions whose emanating consequences might last for years, decades or even a lifetime. The decisions made by two prominent political leaders in American history have had a monumental impact on our nation and on humanity.

President John F. Kennedy distinguished himself after making very difficult decisions 59 years ago with a lifetime impact in humanity. I echo the words of David M. Rubenstein in his work: How to Lead. “No leader in my boyhood rivaled President John F. Kennedy, who showed leadership in the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962: decisions that kept the United States and the Soviet Union from a nuclear war, one that could have killed more than 100 million people at the time – including me!”

Conversely, Herbert Hoover a successful businessman, became the president of the United States in 1929. Shortly after taking office the stock market crashed, signaling the economic crisis called the Great Depression. Although President Hoover did not believe in government intervention, he quickly realized that he could not simply stand-by and let the economy deteriorate – so he began to take action. Unfortunately, almost all of his numerous initiatives and decisions failed to revitalize the economy. Consequently, according to many, President Hoover became a symbol of the government’s failure to deal with the Great Depression and its devastating effect on society.

 Behind a Decision

Decision-making is an art, not a science! Therefore, what hides behind making tough decisions could be esoteric, dynamic and convoluted. The complexity or the variety of issues, situations and circumstances surrounding difficult decisions, could represent a challenge to even the most efficient decision-makers. It is an exercise demanding their best personal efforts and an opportunity to display their superior skills and abilities. Extreme cases will also demand people to be flexible, courageous, disciplined and persevering in their approaches – reasons why tough decisions are difficult to make.  

Courage is an essential attribute of efficient decision-makers and it represents the mental or moral strength of individuals. It’s what separates the men from the boys, so-to-speak. Courageous leaders at the highest echelon of governments or businesses are generally disciplined individuals. They are usually humble people that rarely make difficult decisions by themselves: regardless of their power, intellect or even their effectiveness and abilities to persuade others.  

Many of those leaders consider themselves to be designers and builders of decision-making systems. Systems designed to develop leadership skills of selected individuals, and a pool of talent from where to select future management leadership. These systems are also the source of excellent information, supporting strategic management decision-making in a competitive global business environment.   

Importance of Inner Circles

Knowledge is Power – but we humans are cognitively limited! 

No human – regardless of intellect or mental capacity – is able to handle the volume of information to be reviewed and absorbed, or having the technical knowledge required to make difficult decisions in today’s complex societies.

Herbert Simon – a 1978 Nobel Prize Winner and one of the founding fathers of artificial intelligence believes, that humans are not as comprehensive in information gathering and analysis, as we think we are. Doctor Simon elaborates: “we search for alternatives only to the point where we find an acceptable solution – we do not keep looking for the perfect optimal solution.”

Therefore, for the reasons previously stated; top leaders and key decision-makers must surround themselves with talented, innovative and bold people. Because the effectiveness of leaders and their abilities to make difficult decisions will be enhanced by the valuable contribution of other brilliant minds. Experts that can supplement decision-makers’ cognitive deficiencies and increase their knowledge from: the depth and accuracy of their research, their analyses, and from their diverse perspectives and recommendations. 

No individual leading the path of an organization will succeed without competent and knowledgeable people assisting them in finding “that perfect optimal solution” – Herbert Simon.

David M. Rubenstein interviewed Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon in his September 2018 Peer to Peer interview show, in Washington DC.  David Rubenstein asked Jeff Bezos: “Amazon Prime seems to be a great way to get money in advance of people actually getting goods and services. Whose idea was that?” Jeff Bezos answered: “Like many inventions, it came up inside a team. I love team inventing; it is my favorite thing. I get to live two to three years in the future. Somebody has an idea, then other people improve the idea, other people come up with objections why it can never work, then we solve those objections. It’s a very fun process.  

“The best way to predict your future is to create it” – Peter Drucker

Conquering the Inner Demons

After the decision-makers have considered the output of their inner circle of experts, carefully analyzed facts and alternatives and, reflected on the thoroughness behind their effort: leaders should be very confident about the decision that has to be made – you might think! 

But something cognitive frequently happens to many of us that can derail partially or completely our decision-making process. Internal powerful forces try to take control of our mental capabilities. Suddenly, it feels like “our inner-demons” are unleashing all kind of negative emotions and planting seeds of doubts in our minds: am I making the right decision? should I delay making the decision until more data is analyzed? What will be the consequences of a bad decision? will my job be in jeopardy if I make the wrong decision? 

This phenomenon could be so powerful and disturbing, that could actually paralyze human thinking or cause irrational behavior in many people. Intelligent humans all-of-the sudden: start rushing making decisions with the excuse that they need to move-on to do other apparent “important” tasks: some want to run away scared from the responsibility of making any decision: others develop defensive attitudes toward people trying to engage in a dialogue with them: others turn into “controlling freaks” and disconnect from all people disagreeing with their views, because they are convinced that their views are superior or indisputable. 

These pressures could traumatize many people and could have a negative effect in their abilities to make decisions for the rest of their lives.  

Free to Decide

The most effective decision makers conquer those demons and liberate themselves to make their best decisions. It takes courage and perseverance to conquer them, but it can be done. It’s imperative that they succeed in doing that, to have the mental clarity and confidence to exercise good judgement. The secret to their success? They trust their analytical abilities, their meticulous data and information gathering, and their decision-making process. They have the ability to mentally ignore, or block everything else! That gives them confidence and assurance in their abilities to make the right decisions, over and over again. Because Tough Decisions Must be Made.

Felix E. De Jesus

Adjunct Professor of Global Management,

Leon Hess Business School,

 Monmouth University, New Jersey

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