The power to make up our minds Essay

Congratulations–you just made a decision! By turning to this page, you made one of your many daily choices,beginning with the decision to get up in the morning. The smalldecisions don’t cause most of us much effort.

The big ones,however, can bog us down. The ability to make good, timely decisions is often what sets thepotential supervisor or manager apart from the rest of the staff. It candetermine our professional future and influence the way employees judgeour effectiveness. Nothing is more destructive or demoralizing to awork group than an indecisive leader. In the health care field or private life, however, it seems thatthe whole world is more indecisive than ever these days. Why? Here areseveral reasons: * Fear of failure.

After the ill-fated Bay of Pigs incident,President John F. Kennedy noted that while victory khas a hundredfathers, defeat is an orphan. No one wants to take the blame for awrong decision, so we try to play it safe by taking the path with theleast risk–by taking no action at all. Not every choice we make will be right. Some decisions are bynecessity educated guesses, based on available data.

We need to fostera work environment that allows individuals the freedom to make decisionsand learn from them. We should also encourage employees to point outflaws in our own decision-making processes–a safeguard against windingup like the emperor in his non-existent new clothes. * Too much data. While data are critical to making decisions, theycan become too much of a good thing. This age of computers andphotocopiers inundates us with information. If decisions were basedsolely on data, we could delegate them to computers. But supervisorsmust sometimes cut through mounds of facts and figures and go with theirgut feeling.

* Too many options. The slogan for the Model T car was, “Anycolor you want, as long as it’s black.” Today, our range ofchoices in everything from car colors to chemistry analyzers can bemind-boggling. The sheer profusion of alternatives can drag outdecisions. One perfect option may not exist; our job is to select thebest one available.

* Future shock. The pace of social and technical change is soswift that the “right” decision today may look awfully wrongtomorrow, as many lab maangers became painfully aware with the passageof DRGs. This realization can make us gun-shy when it comes to decisionmaking. * Too many cooks. The desire to manage democratically, if taken toextremes, can paralyze our capacity to choose.

As a rule, the speed ofa decision is inversely proportional to the number of people involved inmaking it. Participatory management can be counterproductive if a quickor possibly unpopular decision is necessary. At those times, the labneeds one person in charge who is not afraid to get tough. * Fear of stirring up resentment. Some of us put off decisions, ormake the wrong ones, to avoid upsetting and antagonizing others. At somepoint, however, a good manager has to make some unpleasant choices.

Like a referee making a controversial call at a football game, you willusually have half the crowd mad at you no matter what you do. Courage, in fact, is probably the effective decision maker’sgreatest asset: courage not only to make and implement the decision butto admit later that you may have been wrong. When there is no idealanswer, the path of least resistance becomes tempting, but it probablywill not lead to a solution in the long run. The Federal Government’s current deficit reduction fiasco is aprime example. Instead of making the hard decisions, the bureaucratskept skirting the issue for years, hoping that someone else would do thejob for them.

No one did, and in the meantime the debt kept piling upby the billions. All of us, from the Washington establishment down, are facingdifficult choices that cannot be put off for long. Our decisionswon’t always by popular, or even right. But we will grow a littlewith each one we make–starting, I’d like to think, with yourdecision to read this column.


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