The Point of Decision. After leaving the service, I have noticed many mid-level leaders are terrified to make decisions. They defer to their boss or mask this fear by scheduling another meeting for more “fact-finding”. It is very annoying to see people who are empowered to make choices who are not willing to take the actions needed to do so. We need to change this culture and applaud those with the courage to decide, not berate them.
There are many times, as the Lead Production Superintendent of 35 aircraft and 350 personnel, when I sat in a meeting and received the status of an aircraft. Every morning the on-shift Production Superintendent charged with making the flying schedule happen would give the leadership team a status of the last 24 hours of maintenance. During one such briefing where an entire laundry list of issues was being shared, I had that feeling much of this was self-induced. The whole time I was thinking, “how on earth did we get to this point?!” I was ready to point my finger and pass judgement for all that had happened, but then I remembered all those times I was in the other seat.
Hindsight is a tricky thing. It makes us feel dumb that we didn’t buy a house after the market bubble burst and our dream homes were so cheap. It makes us look back onto a decision we made and realise the decision we should have made. When the football coach goes for it on fourth and one, he is a genius or a moron depending on if it worked or not. The next day everyone is picking this choice apart looking at all the variables and what could have been, especially if it was a failure.
Unfortunately, when we are at the point of decision, we do not have the ability to know how things are going to play out for certain. I remember a decision where I had roughly five minutes to make a call and it turned out to be a bad choice because of the sequence of events that followed. It took my supervision almost an entire month,with the benefit of hindsight, to figure out how to handle the situation differently. Even after all that had happened, I would have still made the same decision as it had the highest probability of success at that moment.
When we see all of the fallout of a decision gone wrong, we think it was automatically a bad decision. However, what we need to do is return to the point where the decision was made. What facts were known at the time? Should they have consulted someone else? Were there waving red flags at the time? Then consider what decision you would have made. This is how a decision should be graded when we are mentoring others. Naturally, bad outcomes need to be dealt with and if there was negligence, that is a completely different story. However, most of us have been in positions where we made the best possible choice based on what we knew.
Sometimes the person has a 50/50, coin flip type decision, and limited time to choose. Instead of berating the person for having the guts to make a decision that turned out poorly, I would often thank them for actually deciding and not just kicking the can to the next person. Then privately, sit down with them and talk through the choice, what their thought process was, and how it could be handled differently if something similar ever arises again. This is how you teach others to navigate through the grey areas we often face in leadership positions.
The judgement of a choice should not be solely determined by the outcome; rather, by going to the point of decision.