On the Art of Making Decisions

Angela Merkel and Helmut Kohl are known not only for having led Germany for many years as chancellors. They are also known for the fact that they are often able to sit a problem out and come to solve it when it is already obvious how it should be done and what has to be decided. In contrast, our current Prime Minister often makes quick to rash decisions, often wrong ones, and then masters the art of not taking responsibility and passing the buck. Just how do you do that in business? What makes that leader the role model that everyone follows?

In the end, it’s not just that he can speak in a way that inspires everyone around him. He’s demonstrating that he can make decisions. And he can make decisions that hurt the team when they have to implement them. This is what distinguishes a good leader from one who tries to flow with the crowd and delay and adjust unpleasant decisions so that it “doesn’t hurt”.

A great leader knows full well that he or she is working with limited resources. And he must make the company successful, so he must choose well in which activities the company will invest its valuable and expensive resources. It looks easy, but in the end it’s very hard because recognizing the right opportunities is not exactly easy. That’s what makes the real leadership really hard (in addition to about a thousand other things, of course).

It’s just that, the art of decision making isn’t as common as we’d expect. In general, there are a lot of managers who have big shoulders until they have to decide something that they can ultimately be held accountable for. Corporations are full of them, because if you play it smart, you can go very far. Only, you don’t often play it to the company’s advantage, but rather pretty carefully against the wall.

If a company doesn’t have well enough developed defensive reflexes, then eventually innovation gets stifled. Innovation is great, but it is a risk. Most of them don’t work, and one may wonder why so much money was paid for an idea. That’s why it’s sometimes advantageous to kill a potential innovation at the outset.

The company will stop growing first. It lacks ideas on how to proceed. And then comes the phase that can be described as banging your head against the wall. We just keep trying the same things we normally do. And we expect it to work this time. We reach a point where the company is exhausted and tired. People get fed up and the best people leave because the grass is suddenly greener elsewhere.

And then it picks up speed and the descent gets faster and faster. And eventually, someone has to come along who has the courage to make bold decisions. If he comes early, it’s boom time, if he comes late, the financial side of things can’t be pushed through.

What is the lesson for Human Resources. We need to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit, the art of taking risks and praise even for mistakes if they were really bold. Because the learned did not fall from the sky, but cautious managers are dropping handfuls every day.