Recently, after a New York City-based physician returning from treating patients in Africa turned up with the Ebola virus (after having also traveled the streets of New York), and a nurse returning from similar duty seemed to evidence precursor symptoms of the disease, the governors of New York and New Jersey both reached decisions to involuntarily quarantine those deemed to pose a risk to the population.
At the urging of generals and military families alike, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has drawn a somewhat firmer line, announcing that, for the near term, military personnel stationed in Africa will (not might) be quarantined for twenty-one days before returning home.
The howls from the media, medical professionals, and others have reached, dare I say, a fevered pitch, and that’s okay. We’re all entitled by the Constitution to voice our opinions. There are two things we need to understand, though:
- Our rights as individuals end at the tip of our neighbor’s nose, lip, ear, what have you. I have every right to say what I want and to risk my own life, but that right doesn’t extend to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater or imposing my risk on my neighbor, let alone an entire population. Those rights that we enjoy come with certain responsibilities.
- Whether in the workplace, government, or military, leaders bear the burden of making decisions that impact both individual and collective rights. That’s what they are appointed and get paid to do. Sometimes we like those decisions and sometimes we don’t.
For those of us who hold a leadership role, formally appointed or otherwise, I will submit that we have at least three obligations with respect to our decision making:
- To actually make the decision. Those who would follow us need to know that when a decision is required, we will actually make one. Making no decision is in itself a decision, and almost always the wrong one.
- Our decisions should be timely. Perhaps the 2nd greatest failing in our decision-making (next to not making a decision at all) is deferring the decision until it’s too late. In his book, My American Journey, Gen. Colin Powell advocates against waiting until you have all the information: “Use the formula P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired. Once the information is in the 40 to 70% range, go with your gut.” In other words, don’t wait until you reach the end of your runway to take off.
- Utilize an appropriate fact-gathering process, then make your decision(s) on the basis of what you genuinely believe to be the right thing to do, NOT what is popular, politically correct, or aimed at pissing off the fewest people. In the aforementioned book, Gen. Powell’s 18th precept is that, “Command is lonely.” Yes it is, General… yes it is.
A pathfinder in the arena of leadership and employee engagement Bill Catlette is an Executive Coach, Advisor to Management, Conference Speaker, and Business & Workplace Author. He helps leaders connect the dots between People, Passion, Performance and Profit, hone their leadership skills, and achieve demonstrably better outcomes. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter @ContentedCows.