“How could I be so stupid?” The late US President John F Kennedy asked after realizing how badly he had miscalculated when he approved the Bay of Pigs invasion – an attempt to topple the government of Fidel Castro in Cuba. Leaders are required to look into the future with a critical eye and make strategic decisions. Such decisions may have to be made in an environment of uncertainty, risk and incomplete information. Why do leaders/decision-makers so often fail to look into the available alternatives with care even when thousands of lives are at stake? Why sometimes they make poor choices and consequently push their people towards catastrophes?
Referring to the May 22 airbus A 320 crash in Karachi, Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar said on the floor of parliament that “Forty per cent of pilots of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) having fake or dubious licences have been grounded”. However, the assertion was denied by the licencing authority. What have been the consequences? Why couldn’t the decision-makers understand and analyze the problem, properly seek full information and evaluate all the alternatives before making such a vital decision that was detrimental to the country’s reputation worldwide and damaged economy and standing?
How did the great leaders make challenging and high-stake decisions in an environment of risk, uncertainty and anxiety?
Some fateful decisions made by the Pakistani rulers were so devastating that changed the course of history. The list goes here: decision to launch military crackdown on former East Pakistan; not accepting on time the opposition parties’ demand for re-elections in 1971 and paving the way for a martial law; hanging of ousted prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979, sacking of the then army chief General Pervez Musharraf in 1999 and paving the way for another military takeover. These are some of the decisions that will continue to haunt us for all times to come. By not amending or scrapping the National Accountability Ordinance, the successive governments were parties to gross human rights violations and travesty of justice.
It is unfortunate that we have not learnt from our chequered history. Successive governments spent most of their time and energy on how to let down the opposition parties. Resultantly, their policies and decisions have been shaped not by any sincere desire to assess their choices, anticipate peoples’ wellbeing and evaluate the upside and downside of their decisions. Their decisions have been and continue to be based not on deep analysis of the problems faced by the people but on guts and instincts. What have been the outcomes? We are now a society, more or less, where people have become so indifferent to the modes of governance that they have stopped caring who governs. This is because the so-called public representatives have repeatedly failed to deliver the ones who elected them. The fact of the matter is that such state of affairs favours the political leadership for they think people are fools with defective gyroscope unable to find direction without them.
Writing on Pakistan’s managerial dilemmas, Hilton Root, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, Virginia, USA writes:
“Discretion without accountability is deeply-rooted in Pakistan’s political history profoundly shaping the country’s administration [governance] system. Pakistan’s political institutions offer the leadership many opportunities for violating citizens’ trust. Institutional change is proposed as a tool for politicians to maintain their authority through reforms rather than patronage. Institutions are needed to allow politicians to lead while preserving the impartiality, permanence and expertise of a public bureaucracy.”
Let me say something in passing about two world leaders, who made fateful or consequential decisions and history will always remember them but differently.
Nelson Mandela, on his release from prison after 27 years and his election as the first black president of South Africa, decided to leave behind the atrocities of the white regime against the black majority population and move forward by embarking on national unity and building a cohesive nation. He, in his first speech, declared that he would only focus on the nation’s wellbeing and would not be a candidate for the next elections. He only thought of the current and the future generations and not of seeking power again. He will be remembered as a great leader by the historians.
Former US president Harry Truman will also be remembered for his decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 killing about 150,000 people. It was a horrible atrocity for which he never expressed regret. According to various war analyses, he never considered the alternatives.
How did the great leaders make challenging and high-stake decisions in an environment of risk, uncertainty and anxiety? If required by the circumstances to move quickly and proceed with insufficient information, they moved quickly and did not stand around appearing unclear and uncertain. They knew how to balance their emotions with reasons and made timely and sound decisions that positively impacted their people. However, this does not mean that they always trusted their instincts and guts and they did not analyze the problems and did not evaluate the alternatives.
While making fateful and strategic decisions, instincts and gut feelings should not be taken at their face value. These should be used with problem analyses and by surveying the alternatives. Complacency, defensive avoidance and bolstering would adversely affect decision-making. Henry Mintzberg, a professor of management at McGill University and a longtime proponent of institutive decision-making, says:
“The sense of revelation at the obvious occurs when your conscious mind learns something that your subconscious mind had already known”.
This article was originally published at: https://dailytimes.com.pk/648215/can-fateful-decisions-change-the-course-of-history/
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.