Right or Wrong Isn’t the Issue
This post is inspired by a reader who writes,
“I believe that leaders make decision not based on what is right or wrong but what is relevant in the context.”
Most leadership decisions are about good, better, and best, not right and wrong. They aren’t moral.
Moral decisions aren’t compromised. Options,
on the other hand, are explored and modified.
Treating non-moral decisions like moral – right or wrong – choices, establishes adversarial relationships. Church people do this when they fight over methods, programs, or the color of the church’s front door.
Treating options like moral decisions makes
you look like an out-of-balance fool. Chill out!
Options have a good, better, or best. Explore, explain, and lobby for the option you think is best. Give reasons and data. Then make a choice.
Don’t be offended, but non-moral
choices can always be improved.
Passionate implementation, not second guessing, follows decisions. Grab an oar and row. But, you ask, “What if I disagree? Get over it or get out.
One of the hardest leadership challenges is dealing with good people who drag their feet. Detractors and foot draggers always harm organizations. Get them fully on board or eliminate them.
Encourage passionate debate before choices are made; after, call for passionate loyalty.
Implementation is followed by evaluation. Evaluation isn’t second guessing; it’s the pursuit of good, better, or best.
Evaluation isn’t, “I wish we would have, or, I told you so.” It’s, “How do we improve?” Saying, “Should have,” doesn’t sit well with those who are giving their best.
Cowards stand in the shadows second guessing. On the other hand, committed leaders say, “Here’s where we are, how can we improve?”
There are many solutions to complex problems.
Have you seen leaders who made decisions as if they were moral choices? What happens?
How are options best explored?
I agree that “most leadership decisions are about good, better, and best, not right and wrong”. I think this is wise advice we all need to keep in mind.
However, I am struggling with the idea that most leadership decisions aren’t moral. If we take a sytems perspective most decisions in business become a matter of moral reasoning e.g. deciding to make a product which uses resources that are depleting or polluting the planet in order to make a profit which provides pensions for the elderly.
I’m also not convinced that moral decisions aren’t compromised. People are generally at different levels in their moral reasoning (Kohlberg) and use different moral frameworks for guidance (based on their background, beliefs, values, etc). To gain support of the majority for a moral decision is likely to involve debate and compromise – its not going to be a right and wrong decision.
Thank you for this thought provoking and challenging post.
Thank you Dan for recognizing my point. It is indeed debatable issue that prevails almost at all the workplaces.
Right and wrong are not absolute ones. Personal judgement about right and wrong can be challenged in different contexts. Similarly, right and wrong defined in specific environment could be different from personal standpoint. So, the question is what is right or wrong? I think there are some dimensions that decides what is right or wrong. I think there could be two opinion- idealistic view and organizational view. When leaders have capacity, they can challenge organizational views to put forth their views. but the same is not true for those who do not have capacity to influence. For them there is no choice. They generally can not challenge what they think or what is right or wrong. They have to accept and act what is expected.
Again, from practical point of views, if leaders need to chose between ethics and business, they have to take decision what is context specific or what is desired.It means when founder or philosophy of organization is more sensitive towards ethics, leaders have to take decision based on what is ideally right otherwise not. In the other situation, where increasing number is only agenda, leaders need to make decision that increase revenue or profit figure. And in such situation, ethics takes back sit, whatever will happen later on, that is immaterial.
So, how are options best explored based on founders philosophy, top management vision. leadership autonomy, culture cohesiveness, and the most important is leaders courage to take decision and ensure execution.
Although I read this blog and find its content very noteworthy, this particular concept I find strangely profound and quite valuable. It will take some time to evaluate the results produced from its application.
Sadly many people spend their lives never really addressing most decisions in a logical manor. It’s important to keep decisions relevant to the area and nature of the decision. But what we see are people engaging in emotional and irrational arguments that turn discussion and decision making into shouting matches. Anyway thanks for a thoughtful article that discusses decision making in a rational way.
“Most leadership decisions are about good, better, and best, not right and wrong. They aren’t moral.”— Yes BUT if one (or more) of the choices available to you is unethical you have to reject that option if you are a ‘leader’.
IMHO they aren’t ‘leaders’ who are constantly looking out to to see what majority is doing or thinking of being approved by majority before they can act, afraid of ‘looking’ like a fool. You are a follower, a non-leader in leadership positon, a pretender cheating oneself and others who have put their trust in you.
“Treating non-moral decisions like moral…” is a reflection of dysfunctional forebrain IMHO and so is treating moral decisions as non-moral and irresponsible too.
“Don’t be offended, but non-moral choices can always be improved.”
—I would like to know how an aborted fetus be revived and I won’t be offended.
leaders say, “Here’s where we are, how can we improve?”
= “Here’s the mess we created, how can we fix it? I’m a leader and didn’t have the foresight to judge the consequences of my unethical action.” LOL
IMHO you aren’t a ‘leader’ if you find youself ‘reacting’ to situations majority of your time, you are simply a ‘manager’ trying to manage and get by. Having a vision or ‘noble dream’ as you said, is what differentiates a ‘leader’ from a ‘manager’.
“There are many solutions to complex problems.”
—Absolutely! There are ‘MANY’ solutions and if you think you are a leader have the backbone to reject the unethical solutions. Tough? ‘Maybe’, Impossible? ‘No’.
This is a great way to assess leadership. Good, better, and best allows people to move forward without being paralyzed by the expectation of perfection. When we focus on growth rather than being right or wrong, everyone feels compelled to contribute their best.
Wow, great advice for our political leaders in this post. How different (and effective) could our political system be if we applied the filter of “good, better, best” to decisions that are made instead of “right or wrong.”
I found great value in this post, Dan. And an immediate real-life application for the information in it. On the matter of “right or wrong,” I have some staff members who regularly give me the argument that such-and-such a move/decision is “unfair.” I have told them these decisions don’t have anything to do with fairness; but with what is best for our department, company, etc. Our company has published, well-communicated guiding beliefs that include integrity and doing the right thing; so for us, ethics and morals have to play a part in deciding good/better/best.
While there is some truth here, i have to generally disagree. I find it risks dangerous misconception. There is a difference between the right, best, and better ways to do something, but there are often times moral issues engaged. The fact that you don’t find them in most situations only means that your organization plays further from the lines. I have on multiple occasions dealt with situations I felt were morally wrong that were excellently effective. In fact I would say that almost every decision has immoral alternatives that must be discarded before the better/best determination occurs. We usually do this without thinking about it. (hire an assassin to take care of that troublesome customer, is a viable alternative. hopefully we discard this option for moral reasons, not because alternatives are cheaper.) i realize this is an extreme example, but much more subtle examples happen all the time.
Right now I am dealing with a leader of a non-profit who has a tremendously effective idea that will in fact benefit everyone involved. The problem is the process starts with a lie and a bait and switch. Many would argue that since it benefits the lied to in the end, and the lie is small, its ok… But I say it’s a house on sand that must eventually collapse. The man in question is highly moral, but he’s blinded by the success that could occur. I would be one of those followers who is foot dragging in this case. And I think I’m right.
If some brings up a moral question, I always re-evaluate before I move forward.
One of the best bits of advice about leadership I ever got was from a guy named Michael Dobson, who writes and speaks about how to run all kinds of things. Anyway, he said, (and I paraphrase) “A good leader isn’t one who makes good decisions–anyone can make a good decision. A good leader is someone who can make a decision when there aren’t any good options.”
Making a choice between right and wrong is easy. Making a choice between wrong and wrong is a lot tougher. Using atomic weapons against civilian populations at the end of World War Two was wrong, but not using them and waging a ground war to take Japan would also have been wrong, possibly have resulted in more loss of Japanese civilians, and definitely resulted in more loss of life to the Allies.
Life’s not a comic book. We usually don’t have the luxury of choosing between good and evil, most of the time we have to decide which wrong answer is the least damaging.
There is a lot of complex semantics here over the term “moral” but some of this post sounds like it could describe Bermie Madoff’s modus operandi.
What also distinguishes leaders from non-leaders is their conviction to be open and candid. Think for a moment where on the openness/candid spectrum is the effective use of criticism. Leaders who lead don’t shy away from criticism. Leaders recognize that quality criticism is the closest thing to honest communications!
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