When In Doubt, Do The Next Right Thing
Updated: Jun 28
I apparently missed the memo... that demoted the wisdom of Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt behind the wisdom of Princess Anna from Disney's "Frozen" franchise - proof that the Zeitgeist waits for no one! When I was researching the quote (below), the Internet coughed up many more Princess Anna memes about "the next right thing" than those related to the OG himself. While I enjoyed Princess Anna's "The Next Right Thing" song (which has had more than 11 million views of the official lyrics video), I need to focus you on what the former Roughrider and 26th President of the United States is attributed as saying:
"In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."
Given the disruption, change and chaos we are experiencing, it seems appropriate to revisit this advice and consider how to apply it to our "next right thing" decision making process.
I am going to state something that might seem obvious, yet it must be said - the decisions you make are THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU DO... period.
I say this unequivocally - no matter who you are, no matter what role or position you hold in your organization. You are going to make decisions and the quality of those decisions will limit or expand your career. The decisions we make have such importance and power, yet we often ignore this reality or we try to minimize or even avoid it.
Not Making A Decision Is Making A Decision
The first thing to come to terms with is, as a leader you must make decisions. You must because you are the only one who can. This is not (necessarily) because you are so smart or so powerful or so amazing - rather, it is the responsibility of a leader to make decisions for the part of the business for which you are in charge.
This is important since you have an obligation - a leader is responsible for everything his/her group does, or fails to do - to move your part of the organization forward and forward depends on you making decisions. That said, how often do we say: I’m too busy to think about it right now. We’re not on the same page yet. We’re waiting for things to change.
Unless we make decisions, the decision we have made is to let inertia guide our future. Inertia is defined as follows: Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its velocity. This includes changes to the object's speed, or direction of motion. An aspect of this property is the tendency of objects to keep moving in a straight line at a constant speed when no forces act upon them. I would underline and emphasize this key point: "objects... keep moving in a straight line at a constant speed when no forces act upon them." When was the last time you looked at your business and thought, "lucky us - there are no forces working to change our speed or trajectory"? When I talk with clients, it's almost always about those forces and what to do about them. Things like:
The effects of inflation - in raw material costs, wages, pricing, budgeting
Supply chain disruptions - their supply chain or the supply chain they are a part of
The regulatory environment - laws, taxes, industry related groups and accreditations
Competition - for market share, for shelf space, for their employees, etc.
The work force - post-COVID working arrangements, hiring, firing, promotions
International affairs - uncertainty affecting almost every aspect of our business
Not making decisions = inertia. Relying on inertia to keep us moving in the right direction, at the right speed in today's world; that is a recipe for disaster.
Reaching Consensus Isn't Decision Making
Getting a group to come to a consensus is not the same thing as making a decision. This might seem strange because coming to a consensus can feel like decision making, but if 9 out of 10 of your team strongly agree, "feel harmonious," but one person says he "can't decide" and "doesn't feel good" about the idea, is that still consensus? What if one person says "I'm not against the idea, but I'm still angry that my recommendation wasn't given a fair hearing so I can't commit to feeling good about this", is that consensus? It's true that "consensus" can have a lot of definitions but I like this one:
"Consensus is when no one is willing to fall on their sword in disagreement."
That doesn't sound like the best way to go forward, does it? You need to do the work to bring clarity in your options, getting people to voice their opinions and weighing the various factors that surround the decision that needs to be made, but you still need to make a decision... you. need. to! Does it hurt to work towards a consensus of opinions? Of course not! In reality, the better work you do before a decision is made, the greater the chance the decision will be implemented. There is a very powerful methodology I use to help organizations who want to become better at making decisions that will actually be implemented - because many (many) decisions never are. If a decision is never implemented, then who cares if it was made?
You Have To Start With What Is Right
Peter Drucker, one of the most influential business thinkers of our time, recounted a story from the beginning of his work with General Motors in 1944. Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., who was then chairman and chief executive officer of the company, called Drucker to his office and said: “I shall not tell you what to study, what to write, or what conclusions to come to. This is your task. My only instruction to you is to put down what you think is right as you see it. Don’t you worry about our reaction. Don’t you worry about whether we will like this or dislike that. And don’t you, above all, concern yourself with the compromises that might be needed to make your conclusions acceptable. There is not one executive in this company who does not know how to make every single conceivable compromise without any help from you. But he can’t make the right compromise unless you first tell him what "right" is.”
Being willing to start with what is "right" rather than expedient, safe, politically correct, easier, quicker, etc. - that is what you are there to do. Despite the difficulty, making and then taking the right decision(s) is what makes a leader. Your business AND your staff are expecting that you will make and take decisions that are effective and efficient, in the short and long term. That's where your success - and theirs - is found.
Maybe you need a coach? Someone to help you distill what your "next right thing" is and how to move with confidence into the decision making role only you can fill? It's valuable to have an outsider's perspective to ensure you are being honest with yourself about topics like these. And the good news? Being able to move your team through "making decisions" and developing your ability to "take decisions" that will actually be implemented is what the business needs from you - whatever your role or position.
If any of this has made you think "Hey - maybe I could use some help in these areas" - please reach out for a free, no obligation initial consultation.
Thank you for investing your time to read this - let's make the future a better place to be!
Looking for help solving issues like these? We would love to engage with you!
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (231) 577-9138.