Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: What makes a “good” decision?

By Tom Davidson

As mentioned in Question Traps are Just around the Cubicle, Fox News’ Megyn Kelly started a minor fad last month among political commentators by asking presidential hopeful Jeb Bush if he would have ordered the Iraq invasion “knowing what we know now.”

More than a trap question (because it’s hypothetical), the inquiry also implied that the earlier judgment (enlightened later by new information and actual, rather than predicted outcomes) must have been a bad call if “knowing what we know now” would have changed the original decision. But this is a misleading premise and a mindset to watch out for as a leader.

Rearview Mirror Decision Making
If one were trying to discern the decision-making ability (or political leanings of a future leader), the better question would be, “Knowing what we knew then, what decision would you have made?

But even the answer to this version of the question would still be misleading, because it would be impossible to put the hypothetical decision maker in exactly the same predicament as the real decision maker at the time of the decision.

What’s a Good Decision?
A good decision is not the one bathed in the easy sunlight of knowing what actually happened in the rearview mirror. A good decision is one that makes the best use of the following:

  • The best use of information that would have been reasonably available at the time the decision had to be made
  • The best use of the available time at the time the decision had to be made
  • The best use of input from other resources at the time the decision had to be made
  • The best estimates of potential consequences and other outcomes at the time the decision had to be made

Don’t let rearview-mirror thinking and backseat quarterbacks tie your hands as a leader. Your job as a leader is to sometimes make the best decision you can based on what you know at the time. Armchair critics and followers get to pretend they would have known better, knowing what we know now.

It’s the nature of criticism, and it’s the nature of leadership.

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