How do heads of state, presidents of major philanthropic organizations, or CEOs make decisions?
Decision making comes down to feelings. The quality of our memory and the amount of information we can access helps, but we tend to make choices and decisions based on feelings. Then we start to rationalize—to ourselves and others. It speaks to our vulnerability as human beings that for all the preparation, thought, intensity, and data we put toward choice, a real decision is delivered from the soul.
Whether a leader is strong or weak, or whether he or she initiates or avoids particular decisions, the same forces and factors shape those decisions. All leaders must wield their power of influence under limitations. The larger their influence, the more extraordinary the constraints. It is the limitations that give the problem of choice its complexity and even poignancy.
Leaders of major organizations have unique perspectives, immense pressures and high stakes. From my view, the work of such leaders is special but not unique. Appreciating that the scope of their mission is worlds apart from individual craftsmen, the dynamics leaders manage are the same ones that stone carvers, wood turners, metal sculptors—and practitioners in every demanding field manage every day of their working lives. If we overlook the universality of our mental processes, such as judging options, balancing tradeoffs, dealing with uncertainty, we overlook the fundamental capabilities of the human mind.
The CEO takes the pulse of employees and customers while also assessing external competitive and market pressures, then makes a strategic decision about which products to release. The stonecutter sees a face in the natural angles of a stone’s edges and structures the rest of her sketch around that emerging relationship. As they operate at their craft, neither limits his or her judgment strictly to subjective or objective knowledge or deductive reasoning.
To work at something with craftsmanship, committed practitioners must rely on both control and openness in their work—at the same time. To do it well takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness and self-management of their emotions.