Professor Fairbrothers '76, founding director of the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network (DEN) and adjunct professor of business administration at Tuck, talked to us about decision-making in leadership. Fairbrothers began the session by giving us insight into his own career decisions, from choosing to come to Dartmouth and work for an oil and gas company after obtaining a master's degree to deciding to retire early and founding DEN to encourage entrepreneurship at Dartmouth. Quoting Stephen Covey, Fairbrothers explained that "successful people start out with the end in mind." He suggested the formula success = results - expectations holds true. We have to define for ourselves what “success” means to us. Fairbrothers remarked that he hopes to inspire his students to tie their definition of success to positive social value.
Fairbrothers then addressed the topic of decision-making. He stressed that, in the real world, decisions with consequences need to be made under conditions of imperfect and incomplete information. As leaders, it is our responsibility to make these difficult decisions. Drawing on current psychology and neuroscience research, Fairbrothers explained that "emotions decide, reason explains." We try to rationally explain to ourselves why we made the decisions we made and exhibit oftentimes hindsight bias. Decision-making involves risk, which is why many people put off making decisions. We need to acknowledge to ourselves what we do and do not know and resist the temptation to "invent" knowledge to fill the gaps.
Fairbrothers emphasized that mistakes are great opportunities for learning and growth. In fact, he suggested that many forward-looking companies actively encourage their employees to make mistakes on their path to new innovations. Fairbrothers advised us to always focus on "the best cost-forward solution" rather than dwelling on past costs and mistakes and to spread our options to increase our chances of success. We need to have an “impulsion to action” when we recognize a high potential for success.
Fairbrothers left us saying that we should focus, above all, on finding meaning and purpose in our lives.
- Written by Sarah-Marie Hopf