Michael O. Leavitt: Keys for life's big decisions

Published: Sunday, May 1 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

This decision was not one I could talk about openly with very many people. Absolute confidentiality was necessary. Nevertheless, I was able to seek the advice of a few people I knew I could trust and who I thought would provide me with honest perspective.

One man, a former governor, was searing in his criticism of life in Washington. I knew his bias and factored in the uniqueness of his situation. It was a sobering conversation, but a perspective that was important to hear. Others encouraged me to take the job if for no other reason than my country called.

Key Five: Decide to decide.

Big decisions are hard. For that reason, I've learned to set up time frames to govern decision-making processes. Once I've set a date to decide, I allow only two situations to push the deadline back. If I am still getting valuable new information or if my options are expanding, I will defer.

Another staple of deciding to decide is to allow time for a decisions to cure before finalizing them. When I appointed judges, for instance, I always waited until the next morning to call a candidate and make a public announcement. Knowing I could change my mind if I didn't feel good about it freed me to make the decision, even though I rarely changed my mind the next morning.

Interestingly, the decision to join the president's cabinet is one where letting it cure made a difference. After the meetings at the White House, I told the president's staff, "I will likely decline, but I want to think about it for a few days."

Over the weekend, I read through what had become a rather lengthy memo to myself. As I did, a new thought came to me. I took a yellow pad and drew a month-by-month graph for the remaining months of my term. On the graph I wrote what I had left to do and charted my capacity to make a unique contribution. I saw that my capacity to start anything new was limited and nearly everything I had going was complete.

I began to get excited about what Lt. Governor Olene Walker could do as a fresh, new governor. She would be Utah's first female governor. She was extremely capable. People would rally to new initiatives she proposed because of their admiration for her and the sense of history she represented.

The next day I called the White House and said, "I am very happy as governor, but if the president asks me to serve in his cabinet, I will." My decision had been made. I felt the relief of knowing I had reached the right conclusion, and I spent the next five and a half years contributing in a new way and feeling energized by the experience.

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