When Decisions go Wrong

I remember the day in high school when I learned the importance of making a decision. I was a senior at an all male military school and I had been put in charge of a company of mostly Freshman students. 

We were on the rifle range teaching these mostly 14 and 15 year olds how to load, site and fire a weapon. Whenever live ammo and guns were present there was a heightened sense of awareness and even as a 17 year old senior I took the responsibility very seriously. Everything was going just fine until one of the freshman had a misfire on the range. Despite discussing and showing everyone exactly what to do in case of a misfire he was confused and perhaps a little afraid about what to do. 

He looked back at his platoon leader for direction and his platoon leader, a junior with the rank of Second Lieutenant froze. The Second Lieutenant hesitated and looked at me. The freshman turned around to look at me too. He was still holding his rifle which was now pointing at me… then it went off.

I felt this funny feeling in my foot, I don’t really recall it hurting that much, I didn’t fall or anything but it kind of burned. Our active army personnel on the range immediately starting yelling “guns down, guns down” and I still wasn’t quite sure what the big deal was. 

It turns out the big deal was that I was shot in the foot. Because it didn’t hurt that bad I might have been most unhappy about the hole in my absolutely perfectly polished shoe. The kid whose gun discharged looked like he was going to pass out. 

Our active army personnel that day included a Sargent Major who was furious. Now who do you think he was most furious with? Nope, not me. Not the freshman whose gun went off either. He left the freshman for me to deal with. The Sargent Major started ripping the platoon leader a new one. 

I remember his words from that day more than anything else. He told the platoon leader that his mistake was in hesitating when an immediate decision needed to be made. The mistake was in not telling the freshman to do something, anything, except turn around with a loaded gun in his hand. It was just a moment of indecision but it turned out to be a pretty big moment. 

It certainly left on mark on me, in more ways than one.

The decisions that are most wrong are often the ones you never make. Not making a decision IS in fact a decision… it’s a decision to do nothing and doing nothing almost never works out well.

Authentic Leaders do not make the “no decision” mistake. They know it’s in fact easier to fix a wrong decision than no decision. Decisions, once acted upon, created momentum. That momentum can be used to change direction faster than starting from a full stop. 

Decide to act…because that’s what Authentic Leaders do!

BTW, if you’re wondering what happened to the freshman well, he went away. We invested hours and hours on gun safety before live ammo was ever brought into the range. He violated one of the most basic safety protocols, he pointed a weapon at someone he didn’t intend to shoot. You don’t get to make that mistake twice, even if the weapon hadn’t discharged he would have been dismissed. Despite what you may have heard, some rules are not meant to be broken.

7 thoughts on “When Decisions go Wrong

  1. Wow! You certainly have the most interesting “Tell us something about yourself…” answer, for sure.

    And I can’t agree more, no decision always has the highest probability of failure. I hope all my screw-ups are made “in gear.”

  2. Always enjoy your articles. Thanks   Sharon Killian Radke sharon@killiansinc.com 828-256-2147 (W) 828-381-3835 (C) “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” _ Viktor Frankl    

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