Posted by: Steven Grabiner | October 22, 2010

INSIGHT: Deciding How to Decide – Part III

While leaders need a confidence born of God’s leading, they must also cultivate a healthy sense of their own weaknesses. Poised and trusting in the promises of God, a dedicated leader will realize that decisions can be derailed by over-confidence. “The first thing to be learned by all who would become workers together with God is the lesson of self-distrust; then they are prepared to have imparted to them the character of Christ” DA 249.

The life of Peter gives a good illustration of what is frequently called the ‘over-confidence bias.’ This is our human tendency to unrealistically minimize obstacles, and thus develop faulty plans. Peter’s confident assertion that he would be faithful to Christ, no matter what the cost, led to his betrayal of Christ. Peter was unwilling to consider information (Jesus’ warning) and allow it to change his perceptions. This inclination to consider our own judgment as superior to others and the aversion to hear what we don’t want to hear, can frequently lead to poor choices.

This can be illustrated by a fatal climbing expedition that took place on Mount Everest several years back. Two well-known climbers, Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, both perished with several clients. One of the reasons for this disaster was the over-confidence these leaders possessed. Ignoring turn-around times, the weakness of their clients, and the deteriorating weather, these men pushed on into one of the greatest climbing catastrophes to date.

Poor communication also contributes to a poor decision-making process. Too frequently a leader is out of touch with his/her organization. The leader may not intend for this to happen. However, it is not uncommon for team members to feel as though it is too difficult to communicate with the leader. At times, a team member withholds information that the leader needs. Whenever communication doesn’t flow freely, poor decisions are the result.

On March 27, 1977, the worst aviation accident in history occurred as a result of poor communication. KLM flight 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736 were headed to the Canary Islands. Due to a terrorist threat, they were redirected to Tenerife. A smaller airport, it was not well equipped to handle the large 747s. A series of small misunderstandings were compounded by poor visibility, airline rules, and irritation. The end result was that the KLM plane took off while the Pan Am plane was still taxing down the runway, moving toward an exit.  The two planes collided, killing 583 people. Upon listening to the voice recordings, it became evident that the pilot refused to hear the warnings of the co-pilot and flight engineer. They, in turn, were too deferent to the pilot. Pressures often cause subordinates to allow hierarchy and authority to overrule their better judgment. In this case, the co-pilot must have thought, “The captain surely must know the runway is not clear.”

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