Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Not to decide is to decide"

Last week, we had a chaplain brief us on ethical decision making. He began with an exercise in which he divided the class into three groups. For the exercise, each group was on a raft that would sink unless one person were eliminated from the raft. One person on the raft was gravely injured, and no one could volunteer to leave the raft. The raft was floating in cold waters with no land in sight. Our task was to decide who would leave the raft.

Everyone felt uncomfortable with the task--no one wanted to throw a buddy overboard. There was a lot of discussion regarding this. Some people said they couldn't throw a person overboard. The chaplain told us that some classes have groups who say they will all go down together.

But, as Harvy Cox said, "not to decide is to decide." The decision not to throw one person overboard, thereby saving everyone else in the raft, is really the decision to throw everyone in the raft overboard. Everyone will die. There isn't a winning solution, but there is a best decision.

Sometimes leadership is difficult--often leadership is difficult. Our exercise was extreme, but the intent was to get us to think. In the corporate world, deciding whom to lay off during hard economic times isn't easy either, but most managers won't say "let's all go down together." Deciding whom to lay off isn't an easy decision. But the more there is to lose, the harder it is to make the decision.

Are you up to the task? If you are in a situation where no solution is a clear "win," can you make the best decision?