Decision-making: How to Take the Long View

Connie Schultz, a columnist for USA Today and author, posted this tweet. “For many reasons, I hope to live a long and healthy life. Today it’s so I can read the essays and hear the songs written by grown children who lived through this pandemic. They will have their views of us.”

Inherent in that tweet is a question: how will tomorrow’s consequences judge today’s actions? Answering the question now is choleric. We are bound up in the passions of the moment as well as the heartbreak of the suffering around us.

Gaining distance

While we live in the present, it is essential to take the long view, especially for significant decisions.  Decision-making requires the discipline of distancing. 

Consider hinge moments of history. The closer in time we are to an event, the more significant the visceral impact. For example, if I tell you the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410, you can imagine an ancient city burning. If I tell you the Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11/2001, you know exactly where you were the moments you saw the Towers collapse. 

And by extension, those who were children on that day do not feel the horror of that moment. Still, all have been impacted by what followed. [By tragic coincidence, the servicemen and women killed in Kabul during the pullout of U.S. forces were infants or toddlers on 9/11, the event that triggered the invasion of Afghanistan.]

Looking to history is a way to gain perspective, but when thinking ahead, you can adopt the mindset of a historian to think about the consequences of an action. Historians benefit from hindsight, yes, but their methodology of who, what, why, and how is helpful in scenario planning. 

Rearview decision-making

Frame your next major decision as a thought problem, the kind that enables us to do a bit of scenario planning. Regard it as a tool to examine our choices for now and the consequences of those decisions in years to come. Here are factors to consider.

  • Impetus: why are we making this decision now?
  • People: who will we engage to help us?
  • Resources: what assets can we apply?
  • Adaptability: how can we remain flexible as well as agile? 
  • Evaluation: what are our criteria for success?

Emotional quotient

Returning to Connie Schultz’s tweet, she wrote that she wanted to “read the essays and hear the songs written by grown children.” Essays appeal to our intellect. Songs convey emotion. Music is a means of expressing something beyond words: feelings and insights too precious, or perhaps too elusive, for words alone. 

And so, when considering big decisions, we want to make rational choices, but let’s not forget the humanity of the moment. What will be the impact of the decisions on us not simply as cognitive beings but truly human beings?

Decisions made are decisions done.

Consequence is what becomes of them.

Regard decisions as written in stone,

Or as mere stepping stones?

Undo them? Or persist in them?

What we do matters as much as how we do it.

With logic, reason, and, let’s hope, some heart.

First posted on 9.17.2021

Find Strength in Humility

One thing they don’t teach in business school is humility.

That was a line I would sometimes drop in my presentations, and it never failed to get a laugh. Everyone it seemed—regardless of whether they had attended b-school or not—knew the kind of self-importance and, yes, arrogance that newly minted graduates might display. Their MBA swagger lasted until they hit their first roadblock at work, and it threw them for a loop. That setback may have been an early lesson in humility.

Today, in our world struggling in the wake of Covid-19, humility is more accepted. We have all been humbled. The world we knew in January 2020 is no more, and the world we are creating is not yet born. There is no certainty in the wake of the virus, economic uncertainty, racial injustice, climate change, and contentious politics. 

Acceptance of reality

Those who accept that reality are demonstrating a sense of humility. That, however, does not mean they are rolling over. Indeed humble people are highly self-aware individuals. They know their strengths and their shortcomings. Author and Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote, “Pride makes us artificial, and humility makes us real.” 

Yes, humility is a gift of strength. It is an acceptance of one’s humanity—frailty and fragility, but also hope and grace. We know we make mistakes, but we have the grace to forgive ourselves so that we can move forward, not simply for ourselves but those who follow our lead.

Making a difference

“To lead the people,” said Lao Tzu, “walk behind them.” Humility inspires people to follow, and when they see you behind them, in support of them, they are more inspired.

A humble leader is content to put others first for two reasons. One, she knows that the real work is done by people who follow a leader’s directives. Two, she is content within herself to recognize her strengths. She echoes the words of Martin Luther, “True humility does not know that it is humble. If it did, it would be proud from the contemplation of so fine a virtue.” 

A friend of mine experienced the benefits of humility firsthand while undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous growth near the side of his nose adjacent to his eye. The removal went fine. But at the time of suturing, the dermatologist asked my friend if he minded her seeking a second opinion on the closing of the wound. 

My friend thanked her and told me later that four of her colleagues came to view the room. What gratified my friend was the humility his surgeon displayed when asking for the counsel of colleagues. She did not fear that my friend or her colleagues would think less of her. She was only interested in the welfare of her patient.

Humility is a virtue, but there is nothing soft or squishy about it. Humility is forged in adversity and gives us the backbone to continue our journey.

Humility is a virtue, no doubt.

But gaining humility requires more than virtue.

Hard work. Sacrifice. Selflessness.

Humility demands a sublimation of ego, but not of will.

Willpower gives us the strength to step back,

So that others may go forward.

Humility enables us to see the light in others,

Rather than our reflection.

First posted on 8/27/2021