A person told the Chofetz Chaim that he was afraid of assuming a position of authority to make decisions. The Chofetz Chaim responded, “Who should assume the position of power, someone who is not afraid of the responsibility?”
Making a decision has power and responsibility and should never be taken likely. For most people, the decisions to get out of bed, what to wear and what to eat are insignificant, but if you are sick, then getting out of bed can be a major decision, and if you are getting married, what to wear is important, and if you are serious about losing weight, the decision can be critical.
As a decision maker, you are subject to criticism, since it is unlikely that everyone will agree with your decision. When you decide, you have to avoid being emotionally affected by negative comments and reactions. When you have positioned your decision based on a critical analysis of what was available at the time of the decision, your decision should be able to stand up under scrutiny.
Good decisions are always based on an assessment of what might happen in the future. The Sages say that the person that is wise is one who thinks about the consequences of whatever he does. Neglecting to look ahead is the prime cause of unhappiness. In our everyday lives, too much food produces an obese person; too much quarreling affects a friendship and marriage. These basic decisions have long-term consequences. The same is true in business and in government.
To address any good decision, a list of the obstacles to overcome is a good place to begin. It takes time to review all of the issues in making a good decision, so while speed is a good policy in action, it is not a good thing in thinking and planning. In listing the obstacles, it is important to differentiate between realistic fears and irrational fears. Do not excessively worry that something could go wrong.
I found that until you have a complete picture of all of the issues affecting a decision, including as much information as you need, it is best to say, “not now,” and not decide until you have more complete information. When you say, “not now,” it often means “no.” Hurrying to judgment displays a definite sign of foolishness, because you have no concern for making an error. It is better to decline a request than to believe it will work out without knowing all of the facts. That is why it is always better to be patient, cautious and deliberate in deciding.
There are times when the best decision is to stay where you are. When you have two difficult choices, remember this story. A fox saw a fish in the river fleeing from danger from a fisherman. The fox told the fish, “Come up on the land and you will escape the fisherman’s nets.” The fish then said,” If we are afraid here in the water, in the element that sustains us, how much more should we fear on the land, in the element where we would die.”
Analysis and advice
When faced with a decision that is unfamiliar, often we do not decide because there are rationales that support different courses of action. When there are choices that can be taken, this can often lead to delay, especially if there is no analysis of each choice. On the other hand, there can be too much analysis. This is paralysis by analysis. We keep studying the problem without ever reaching a conclusion.
For business decisions, clarify your feeling about a product or a process based on reality, and not on your imagination. When you ask for advice, you lose nothing, and you gain understanding. You enrich the person giving the advice as well as your own. It’s a win-win for both parties.
Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl once consulted his rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch. The rebbe asked why he needed advice, and the rabbi said, “Once I came home from school when my step-mother wasn’t home. I took a small portion of fried eggs, less than what she normally gives me. When she saw what I did, she slapped me and said, “Alein memt nit” – “You do not take by yourself.” That advice stayed with me all my life.
What the rabbi learned is that he wasn’t to decide on his own. That is good advice for any important decision, especially for business decisions.
The bottom line: There is no such thing as an insignificant act, no matter how small the decision. Every act may lead to something good, or something worse. It depends on the quality of the decision, and what it means for future events.