I’ve been listening to “D-Day” by Stephen Ambrose—a book about the invasion of Normandy in WWII. In June 1944, just before D-Day, General Eisenhower was getting an immense amount of information on weather, tides, and the Allied and Axis military disposition. Under unbelievable pressure, he was responsible for choosing the launch date of the largest amphibious assault in history.
When the meteorologist came to Eisenhower and his staff with updated information available for the following day’s weather outlook, the report was mixed. One more changing and critical condition to account for. Eisenhower had several of the top commanders of US and allied forces with him representing air, naval and ground forces, and they were evenly divided in their opinions between “go now” and “wait”.
In this conversation, Eisenhower charged every one of them to identify what they were concerned about and to speak openly. He wasn’t speaking to them as the “boss”…he was talking with them as a person who wanted help in figuring out this enormous challenge.
Eisenhower’s brilliance was in doing three things:
- Asking for input: This was a monumental decision and Eisenhower was clearly a brilliant person in a horribly difficult situation. Asking others for their input creates safety and ultimately builds a clearer picture, informed by critical perspectives and experience.
- Specifying exactly what input he wanted: Eisenhower asked specifically what part of the plan each leader was most concerned about. He didn’t want input on things that were settled, or that wouldn’t help in the final decision. Specificity keeps people focused so their input is useful.
- Making the final decision: Sometimes people think that because they ask others for their opinions that they are obliged to include them in the final plan. This is foolish, and not just in cases where there are starkly opposing viewpoints. Input that is not used in the final decision is still valuable and when you’re making the final call, it’s not a popularity contest.
Next time you have a big gnarly decision to make, and want to take some of the stress off yourself, ask others for the input that’s particularly helpful to you. And when you do, don’t feel compelled to please everyone. Your responsibility is to make the best decision or recommendation possible. You can make it less overwhelming for yourself by staying focused on that part, and letting go of unnecessary worry.
And, it will likely go better than you think!