Captain Decision

People who know me get upset that I make decisions without consulting them.

It seems to them that I don’t value anyone’s opinion, that I arbitrarily decide a course of action and steam ahead without any discussion.

It’s true, but it’s because I alone am responsible for the outcome.

Like a ship’s captain, I’m responsible if we strike a reef in Prince William Sound or get swarmed by pirates in the Malacca Straits. If we arrive safely in Long Beach, I get the credit; but more importantly, if we sink, I alone take the blame.

Asking a subordinate for input allows them control over the decision without the burden of responsibility. Yes, you may have the final say, but there’s no doubt that you’re being influenced by what someone else says.

In the extreme, you have to worry that, in choosing a contrary course, your confidante will feel untrusted. But also into your brain creeps the doubt that if you go counter to the suggestion and fail, they’ll say: “I told you so.”

The mere fact that another’s feelings are a part of the equation means your decision-making has been influenced.

A simple and common example:

Think of a time you and the wife have to cross town at rush hour. If you ask “What’s the best way?” you put yourself in the position of having to go the route she suggests – even if you think it’s wrong.  It takes a brave man to go route A when she suggests route B.

Then, when you’re an hour late because of congestion on route B, you secretly blame her, and the night is ruined.

But you also fear taking route A because, if you’re stuck in traffic going that way, you’ll never hear the end of it.

Whether you realize it or not, asking advice has taken away your independence.

And “What do you think?” has compromised many business decisions, too.

“What the heck, let’s go for it,” is that siren on your shoulder which gently charts you into a course you might not have taken. But when your company loses money, where is the fellow who swayed you?

“This doesn’t seem like a good time to invest” might make you hold off when everything else is telling you to buy that new equipment right now. After all, what if he’s right? Maybe your subordinate knows something you don’t.

Well, where is he when you’ve missed the boat?

I realize that this flies in the face of accepted leadership teaching. But you alone bear the burden of responsibility.

Categories: Company Perspectives, Management & Leadership