Winning the political game: How to make tough decisions and survive.

People who have a hard time making decisions shouldn’t become politicians. Political leaders were elected to make tough decisions. That’s a big part of the job.

Columnist George Will once wrote that, “Conflict avoidance becomes habitual. Risk averse politicians are constantly at risk. The rule regarding power is use it or lose it.”

However, there are right and wrong ways to make big decisions. The wrong way will leave a lot of people alienated and angry. The right way will engender respect, if not agreement, even among those disappointed in a decision.

Many major decisions are very close calls. Most have been debated for a long time, and have strong advocates on both sides. No matter what you decide, someone is going to be upset. If these decisions were easy they would have been solved long ago.

It is possible to make tough decisions and survive. The first step is to understand that making and announcing the right decision, while important, is only a part of successful positioning on big issues.

Back in the olden days, when I worked for Gov. Mike Leavitt, we followed a rule stating that only 60% of the success of a political decision or announcement is the correctness of the decision. The other 40% of success is how the decision or announcement is made – whose advice is sought before finalizing the decision, how much support is pulled together, who is informed in advance of the public announcement, and the timing and circumstances of the announcement.

Big decisions and big announcements should not be made in a vacuum or without a lot of planning. Generating support in advance, determining the right timing and setting, deciding who should be informed, and what follow-up is necessary, are all crucial components of a successful announcement or initiative.

Most reasonable people will accept the fact that you decided against their wishes as long as they feel they’ve been listened to, had a chance for input, and that the process was fair. They need to feel you’re making an informed decision after carefully weighing both sides. Most will accept that. But if people don’t feel they had any input, or that the process was unfair, they will be angry and feel betrayed.

If you listen and keep the process fair, then even those who strongly disagree with the decision will feel that they at least had a chance to be heard, that the leader carefully weighed both sides, and that they were properly notified in advance. They will then be much less likely to fight the decision.

There will always be, of course, unreasonable people out there who will never be satisfied no matter what you do. Happily, while they are very vocal, they are not large in number. You can’t keep them happy, so ignore them.