News & Views

Respecting the umpire’s decision

by Sarah O'Neill
25th June 2018
Respecting the umpire’s decision, post image

I was recently in a board meeting where a decision was made by the majority of the board, but one board member passionately disagreed. Clearly upset and angry over the rationale that had led to the decision, he argued his position strongly for several minutes, even after the decision had been made.

I got the logic of the choice we’d made as a board and so did the rest of those in the room. But one person saw things differently, and for a few minutes, he wouldn’t let it drop and was given the space to vent.

Eventually, the CEO interrupted the board member: “You gotta suck it up, Dan, [not his real name!] and move on. The decision has been made. Majority wins — you know the rules. Let’s now focus on working together to deliver on this decision”.

With this intervention, of course, the board member dropped his arguments. A vote was held, a decision was taken and we plotted the way ahead.

It’s what effective boards do.

The situation that played out got me thinking about how decisions are made in other contexts, away from the boardroom. And right now we can see evidence of people struggling to move on from decisions that have been taken.

In Europe, there is the vote on the UK’s departure from the EU; in the US, it’s the legitimacy of the presidential election that’s being challenged.

Are our societies losing touch with the principle of respecting that, in sporting parlance, the umpire’s decision is final?

I must admit I’m not sure. Perhaps these are unique circumstances. But if we return to my example in the boardroom I know this much: ultimately, decisions need to be made for any institution to move forward, whether a business or a nation or any other grouping. And no decision is made that pleases everyone.

Many of us are lucky to live in democracies where we are entitled to vote on certain issues and choices. However, along with this entitlement is the need to accept the outcome of any votes that are taken. That means accepting that we might not get what we want, and it’s something we need to get over promptly for the greater good.

Sometimes life isn’t fair. It isn’t always going to give you what you want. But rather than channeling any disappointment into backward-looking, emotional outpourings it’s important to plot the way ahead with purpose. That’s what effective boards do and it’s what we as citizens should do to move forward productively. Experience tells us that we are all far more effective when we suck it up and get on with things on the terms we have. Disputing an umpire’s decision never got any sportsperson anywhere useful.

Respect, understanding, and selflessness aren’t just the traits of an effective board member. I believe they also make for the best qualities of citizens in a progressive, thinking society.

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