It is reported that a successful businessman was once asked, “To what do you attribute your success?” “Good decisions” was his brief replay. The interviewer probed. “How did you come to make good decisions?” “Bad decisions” was his answer. We learn by experience.
As you make decisions as a leader here is my list of eight principles of good decision making. Good decisions:*
- Support an organization’s mission
- Are consistent with the organization’s values
- Follow a solid understanding of the issues involved
- Often engage a measure of outside guidance
- Consider alternative choices
- Make the best choice for the long-term good
- Are made in a timely manner
- Are supported by all members once the decision was made
I suspect my first real exposure to these principles came as a college history major, reading and reviewing Harry Truman’s two volume memoirs. I was impressed by Truman’s willingness to make good decisions in difficult times with difficult choices. Historians agree that he truly lived out the maxim that leaders make good decisions.
For leaders in faith-based organizations and ministries, there is one more principle. That is to make decisions that you, or a governing board, believe to be in accord with your faith, with what is often called God’s will. That is a challenge, one worth considering carefully. Each faith tradition may answer the “how” differently, blending holy scripture, prayer, contemplation, and tradition. My friend Jack Peterson, former president of Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, has written a book called Discernment for Boards: an Ignatian approach that I find to be quite thoughtful. You can find it at Jack’s website www.managingformission.com
Go decide. But do it with care.
*Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Nonprofit Boards, p. 51
If you would like to get a better handle on governance, I simply offer a shameless plug for my book, Board Essentials: 12 Best Practices of Board Governance. A friend who chairs both a corporate and a nonprofit board suggests it as a great primer.
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