Lonely at the Top!

It’s lonely at the top. Nowhere is this more clear than when a leader has to make a decision. Because of the number of voices urging different alternatives, making the final decision is a lonely process. Even a decision to let the majority opinion prevail is a decision. And no matter what the leader decides, someone will disagree, will second-guess.

It’s just as lonely in the middle. A salesperson has to create a forecast for next year’s revenue. An accountant has to decide on a proposed overhead rate, which will directly impact costs, selling prices, and profits. A supervisor has to decide whether to keep or terminate a new employee before the probationary period ends.

Finally, it can be lonely as an individual. What should I do about my career? My relationship with my significant other? My investments?

Making a major decision can be difficult for 3 reasons:

1. A major decision almost always involves considerable uncertainty. How successful will the new product line (or second office, or ???) be? If things were relatively certain, the decision would probably be relatively easy. How do we decide when our intuition strongly favors one choice, but the hard data strongly suggest a different choice?

2. A major decision can involve competing values. How does one choose between family and career? Or which candidate to hire – the one that fits better culturally or the one who can do the current job better?

3. Making a decision means running the risk of being proved “wrong” as future events unfold. Thus, making a decision is basically the same as speaking in public, which scares some people so much that they would rather die first! Since our society is so quick to criticize and so slow to encourage, the act of deciding can require real courage.

There is a more fundamental reason that deciding can be difficult: The root of the word “decide” is “cide” – which comes from Latin “caedere” which means to cut. (The word “homicide” comes from the same root.) “Decide” means to cut off. Deciding cuts off the non-selected options and alternatives. Personality types who revel in possibilities have great difficulty with this.

No wonder it’s lonely at the top! And in the middle! And even as an individual!

What do you think? I’d enjoy hearing from you.

Gary Langenwalter

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