HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Albert J. Weatherhead III and Richard W. Weatherhead Professor of Public Management, Emeritus


Senior government executives make many decisions, and not-infrequently these are difficult. By “difficult” decisions, the literature generally means ones characterized by complicated and uncertain information, and hard tradeoffs among conflicting value objectives. In a range of interviews with high-level U.S. Federal Government Executives, we found interesting differences between outstanding, noticeably successful executives and controls regarding their “most difficult” decisions, both how they defined them and how they made them. Outstanding executives characterized the hardest decisions they made not as ones characterized by complexity but as ones requiring courage. Several other notable differences in decisionmaking style also emerged.


Kelman, Steven, Ronald Sanders, Gayatri Pandit, and Sarah Taylor. "“I Won’t Back Down?” Complexity and Courage in Federal Decision-Making." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP13-044, October 2013.