Former President Barack Obama is familiar with difficult decisions, such as giving the order for the Osama Bin Laden raid and handling the banking crisis.
Speaking at the 2019 Qualtrics X4 Experience Management Summit in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, the 44th president described how he grappled with such challenges.
As U.S. commander in chief, the issues that most often ended up on his desk were “the ones that were horrible and that didn’t have a good solution.” Those that were easiest to solve would already have been figured out by someone else. So Obama realized it was critical to be “comfortable with the fact that you’re not going to get a 100% solution…so that you don’t get paralyzed trying to think that you’re going to actually solve this perfectly.”
From there, he knew he had to focus on the best option. And determining the best option required getting as much information as possible from the smartest people. Calling himself “old fashioned,” and a person who believes in “enlightenment values like facts and reason and logic,” Obama said that if he knew he was considering every possible angle then he was “making the best decision that anybody in [his] situation could make.”
But confidence in these decisions also meant “having the confidence to have people around you who were smarter than you, or disagreed with you, or have perspectives that were different than yours.” Obama noted that people in big jobs sometimes feel they need to have all the answers, but more often than not, they don’t.
That’s why surrounding himself with intelligent people, including experts, was important. “I had confidence in the talent around me,” Obama said. “I was good at making sure the people working with me were there for the right reasons, that there was a core integrity to what they were doing,” he added.
All of these factors combined helped Obama make tough calls. “That was true whether it was the Bin Laden raid, which was essentially a 50/50 call,” Obama said. “And that was true whether it was what to do about the banking crisis—again, sort of a 55/45 call.”