Every semester when I talk to my class about group dynamics and leadership we go through a exercise called Lost at Sea. In the exercise a chartered yacht catches fire and is sinking in the middle of the ocean. Groups work together and use a rating system to determine the necessity of several recovered items. How each group rates the items determines whether or not the group will be rescued. In addition to the items a life raft that can hold four people has also been found. Before letting the groups work on the exercises I add a twist. I make them kick someone off the raft.
The groups work through the exercise and do a pretty good job of rating the items. The challenging part is deciding who has to leave the raft. All types of alternatives come up. “I’ll sacrifice myself” or “I wouldn’t survive anyway” some say. Others even suggest swimming along side the raft until being rescued. I tell them that no one can sacrifice themselves and everyone has to fight for their space in the raft. With anguish groups finally come to a decision.
“Mr. Quinn why did we have to do that part, couldn’t we just leave it out?”
I tell the class one of the biggest things about leadership is learning to make difficult decisions. As a leader sometimes you must make the unpopular but necessary choice. The budget needs to be cut. Someone in the office has to go. The employee who didn’t exercise discretion must be spoken to. Productivity is low or and crew has lost focus and they need to be redirected.
Avoiding the difficult choices won’t make them go away. Avoided choices amalgamate into crises. Crises are much more difficult to handle. More time. More energy. More resources. Good leaders take the steps to avoid a crisis and when the crisis is unavoidable the leader stand and faces the storm. Being afraid to face challenges does not make for good leadership. Being afraid to make decisions does not inspire people.