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 small
decisions 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 the
potential supervisor or manager apart from the rest of the staff. It can
determine our professional future and influence the way employees judge
our effectiveness. Nothing is more destructive or demoralizing to a
work group than an indecisive leader.
In the health care field or private life, however, it seems that
the whole world is more indecisive than ever these days. Why? Here are
* Fear of failure. After the ill-fated Bay of Pigs incident,
President John F. Kennedy noted that while victory khas a hundred
fathers, defeat is an orphan. No one wants to take the blame for a
wrong decision, so we try to play it safe by taking the path with the
least risk–by taking no action at all.
Not every choice we make will be right. Some decisions are by
necessity educated guesses, based on available data. We need to foster
a work environment that allows individuals the freedom to make decisions
and learn from them. We should also encourage employees to point out
flaws in our own decision-making processes–a safeguard against winding
up like the emperor in his non-existent new clothes.
* Too much data. While data are critical to making decisions, they
can become too much of a good thing. This age of computers and
photocopiers inundates us with information. If decisions were based
solely on data, we could delegate them to computers. But supervisors
must sometimes cut through mounds of facts and figures and go with their
* Too many options. The slogan for the Model T car was, “Any
color you want, as long as it’s black.” Today, our range of
choices in everything from car colors to chemistry analyzers can be
mind-boggling. The sheer profusion of alternatives can drag out
decisions. One perfect option may not exist; our job is to select the
best one available.
* Future shock. The pace of social and technical change is so
swift that the “right” decision today may look awfully wrong
tomorrow, as many lab maangers became painfully aware with the passage
of DRGs. This realization can make us gun-shy when it comes to decision
* Too many cooks. The desire to manage democratically, if taken to
extremes, can paralyze our capacity to choose. As a rule, the speed of
a decision is inversely proportional to the number of people involved in
making it. Participatory management can be counterproductive if a quick
or possibly unpopular decision is necessary. At those times, the lab
needs one person in charge who is not afraid to get tough.
* Fear of stirring up resentment. Some of us put off decisions, or
make the wrong ones, to avoid upsetting and antagonizing others. At some
point, however, a good manager has to make some unpleasant choices.
Like a referee making a controversial call at a football game, you will
usually have half the crowd mad at you no matter what you do.
Courage, in fact, is probably the effective decision maker’s
greatest asset: courage not only to make and implement the decision but
to admit later that you may have been wrong. When there is no ideal
answer, the path of least resistance becomes tempting, but it probably
will not lead to a solution in the long run.
The Federal Government’s current deficit reduction fiasco is a
prime example. Instead of making the hard decisions, the bureaucrats
kept skirting the issue for years, hoping that someone else would do the
job for them. No one did, and in the meantime the debt kept piling up
by the billions.
All of us, from the Washington establishment down, are facing
difficult choices that cannot be put off for long. Our decisions
won’t always by popular, or even right. But we will grow a little
with each one we make–starting, I’d like to think, with your
decision to read this column.