“All virtue is summed up in dealing justly.”
Aristotle 325 B.C.
“Sir, I say that justice is truth in action.”
Benjamin Disraeli Feb. 1851
History is replete with back-benchers, having the benefit of hind-sight, who criticize the action or inaction of leaders. All leaders view the situation at hand through the prism of their own experience. The business leader must make dozens, if not hundreds, of decisions every day, instantly recognizing the long and short term impact of each against the specter of failure. This is not small stuff.
Experience counts. Often the best lessons are the ones earned brutally. Any mistake you made in the past, that was not fatal, was a gift to your future preparation.
We should confine ourselves now with the conviction of the decision, along with the relative speed. A leader who makes decisions too rapidly, based only on “gut” or some emotional response, will not be followed often. Conversely, the leader who wrings his hands over the small uncritical issues of the day will find that no one will seek his guidance a second time.
First, get all the relevant facts about the situation. If the authority to act is yours alone, you better have the background covered. If the situation is beyond your authority, you must seek counsel from someone who does have the authority to decide or act.
Do not operate in a vacuum. Seek help.
Many business situations do not lend themselves to cut and dried solutions. No one expects any leader to have all the answers, but your people expect you to have your own convictions, and to be consistent in their application.
It is okay to admit a mistake, and right way, but you don’t want to make a habit of being wrong all the time. Your batting average will count toward your credibility.
Have you ever had a boss who represented the axiom: “Frequently wrong but never in doubt”? Comical when it’s someone else. Do not let it be you.
It is understandable to act in good faith on a mistake of fact. It happens. But making a decision and then acting in a departure from what is right, whether company policy or morally, will not be forgiven for a long time, if ever at all.
In an emergency situation, a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. Think about what the perception of the decision making process was surrounding Hurricane Katrina, both before and after it struck land. The whole calamity was fraught with bad facts, no moral compass, and a lack of fortitude from all levels of authority. The good plan would have been one that had the rescue of the population as the first priority. What was the difference between the reactions of post 9/11 New York and post-Katrina New Orleans? Front-line leadership.
Another analogy: a building is on fire. The firefighters put it out, first. After the danger has passed and the situation is secure, then and only then do they conduct an investigation into how it was caused. Firefighters do not suffer from the “paralysis of analysis.”
Two more quick asides.
First, look before you leap. Even the firefighter does not charge into the burning building without the right equipment and support.
Second, you will find that most decisions in a business environment are not hyper-critical and just need a little calm reflection. The decision to do nothing may even yield the right ancillary results. Your subordinates will have to deal with it; it could be an emotional cry that bears no need (or desire) for you to get involved, or it could be someone else’s legitimate problem. You are not required to solve every crisis. The problem at your feet may be some other leader’s responsibility.