Sunday, March 24, 2013

Making the Executive Decision: What The Avengers and Argo Have in Common

Two movies I watched recently dealt with a theme not for the faint of heart -- the executive decision. In Avengers, the Council declared to Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) that the best way to deal with the precarious situation involving Lokey (a demigod bent on evil) and his army of otherworldly robotic aliens, was to blast Manhattan with a nuke. The move would hopefully take care of the evildoers, but millions of New Yorkers would go down in the process.

In Argo, CIA agent Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck)  is faced with a real-life precarious situation. He's sent to Iran to rescue American hostages, under the guise of making a Canadian film. Somewhere along the way, as Mendez was prepping the hostages in Iran with their new identities as planned, decision-makers in D.C. decided to ditch the plan.

Fury worked for a fictional government agency, Mendez a real one. In both instances, as the guys chosen to  lead the effort, they were faced with situations in which they had to follow orders...or do what they felt was right.

These moments resonate with me because these are the moments that separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls. The courage that's shown is less about accepting the thought, the possibility of failure. It's more concrete than that. It's knowing that -- in the event you are wrong, in the event the plan crashes and burns -- you will accept the consequences.

If you've ever had to lead a project, you've likely come across such situations. Not as dire as dealing with supervillains and angry Iranians, but having to make the call when the pressure's on, something isn't right, and there's no time to run it up the flagpole.

You consider the facts, the various outcomes, and the high potential that you're going to make somebody unhappy. You also know that when the dust settles, everybody will have an opinion dipped in crystal-clear hindsight. You become hypersensitive to details. The exact time of day. Who said what and when. You're building your case.

This is when you find out if you've got a backbone.

Heart races, breathing quickens. And then -- peace. You know what you're going to do. And more importantly, you're okay with what you're going to do -- no matter who else isn't.

You take a deep breath...and press the button. Not with fear, not with anxiety, not with guilt or regret, but with full conviction that you did what needed to be done under the circumstances. Let the chips fall where they may.

It's not about being a hotshot rebel without a cause. It's not proving you're big and bad because you do what you want to do. That mess is only cute in the movies. In real life, it's about making  a well thought out, selfless, tough decision. If that decision leads to an undesirable outcome, you won't back-pedal, finger point, or stutter. And if an apology is in order, you're big enough to handle that too.

That's a hero -- whether dealing with demons, deviants...or deadlines.

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