Decision-making Lessons From David Cameron and Marie Forleo

Written by Matthew Rock Friday 31 January 2020
Decisions. We live and die by them. Here’s an instagram sensation, a former prime minister and a cobbler on decision-making techniques
Signboard with text "Downing Street"

After resigning as Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron spent the next few years working on his memoirs – all the way through his time in 10 Downing Street he’d recorded memories of the big moments, and now had the chance to organise them.

The book he wrote was called For the Record, but it almost had a different title. As Cameron says, “that is the one thing that stands out for me when I look back over this time: decision-making. A prime minister these days is constantly in contact with their office, by email, text and messenger services and is, therefore, making decisions, large and small, almost by the minute. They also, as I did over the EU referendum, consider the biggest decisions over months, even years. It’s the most difficult, stressful, yet most rewarding part of the job. In many ways, it is the job (and I almost called this book 'Decisions' for that very reason).”

Along with Cameron’s autobiography, I’ve read two books recently where decision-making has been crucial and, okay, I can’t advise on the specific tricky decision you’re facing right now, but I can share some thoughts on how big guns make decisions under pressure.

“You Need to Make a Decision Right Now”

Many people feel that Cameron flunked the biggest decisions he had to make; they say that the decision to hold an EU referendum, for example, wasn’t one he needed to take. Cameron insists this is "delusional": “I was convinced a referendum would happen in the near future anyway, and most likely under a more Eurosceptic Tory government which might not even offer the option of reform”.

Big decisions, small decisions, decisions with long-term consequences, necessary short-term decisions, decisions that you’re told you need to make RIGHT NOW because the situation is only going to get worse – anyone in a leadership position will have a view about decision-making.

The always-contrary businessman John Timpson often says that you shouldn’t rush to make decisions: “I would forbid decisions from being taken at board meetings. Board meetings should be used to discuss ideas, exchange views and to check that plans are taking shape within the business.”

Root the Big Decisions in Your Core Values

Marc Benioff is one of the greatest entrepreneurs of the age. His company, Salesforce, is a global titan. In his recent book, Trailblazer, Benioff writes about why, when it comes to the most important decisions, he makes sure he always has a "beginner’s mind". To help him achieve that state, he meditates daily and is very mindful of his spiritual health. But there’s no doubt his approach has paid off. Over to you, Mark:

“If you charted all the periods of growth at Salesforce that have resulted from some major course correction I decided to pursue, you would find that those moments were nearly always preceded by a period of time when I made a point to unplug and reconnect with my beginner’s mind.

“After all, in times of high stress or crisis, when there’s little time for careful reflection, instinct has to take over. In some ways, those decisions are the true measure of all leaders: what we do when we have to act in the moment. If you haven’t taken the time to reconnect with who you are and what you really believe, those instincts will eventually fail you when it matters most.”

Life-changing Decisions: Start Before You’re Ready

Final words to Marie Forleo, the American life coach. In her new book, Everything is Figureoutable, she describes waiting outside the Viacom Building on Times Square in New York before a crunch job interview with an MTV producer:

“Tourists and fast-moving business folks bumped me from all sides. My palms were sweaty. I was light-headed. Nauseated. I eyed the metal garbage can on the corner of Broadway and Forty-Fifth. Should I throw up now or wait until I’m inside? I felt like a complete fraud. Not one part of me felt ready for what I was about to do.”

Processing the experience later, and having got the job, Forleo draws the following conclusion:

“Honestly, getting the job was even more terrifying because I suddenly had to lead, manage, and creatively support dancers that had years more experience than I did. My naivete was, at times, glaringly obvious.

“And yet that one decision to say yes, far before I was ‘ready’, was a launching point for what became a string of incredible projects that parlayed into an extremely satisfying segment of my career.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that that single decision to start before I was ready profoundly impacted the entire course of my business and life… What’s more, I continue to use this start before you’re ready strategy to fast-track my learning and growth. These days, I run toward projects that make me uncomfortable, and not once has starting before I felt ready failed to produce valuable results.”

CMI members, if you’re struggling with a difficult or complex decision, why not go on to ManagementDirect and search under ‘decision making’? You’ll find a ton of tools, checklists, videos and other resources. It’s your call…

Image: Unsplash