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Christi Noem needs some love. I’ve read the excerpts from her book, I knew exactly what she was talking about. Responsible people make hard decisions. Nobody wants to shoot a dog, but sometimes dogs have to be put down. If you live on a farm, it’s not uncommon to dig a hole, shoot the dog and bury it. Sorry folks, but that’s life in rural areas. Whether the dog is taken to the vet and euthanized or its master shoots it, either way the dog dies. In many ways, I have more respect for the master who put the dog down himself than taking it to the vet and having someone else do the job for him.  We shouldn’t be so hard on Christi, besides, she’s a rock-solid babe, and as such she deserves special treatment.

It isn’t easy to make hard decisions.

Deciding to do what is hard today because the future consequences will be much worse is a difficult skill to master. It’s always easier to kick the can down the road. It is a skill that is always born from experience, making mistakes and learning from them.  It’s not a skill that those in government seem to ever learn because our politicians are always playing with someone else’s money; they are never accountable or feel the personal pain of their bad decisions.

Those of us who are risk takers and entrepreneurs have extreme self-confidence and are very strong willed. We can persevere through bad times with an indomitable spirit.  We believe in ourselves. Frankly, this spirit of enterprise and dogged determination is the central nervous system of American capitalism. I would never want to squelch this enthusiasm in anybody, but there are times when our gritty determination and pride can get in the way of making the right decision.

There is a time for sobriety, reflection and hard analysis leading to abrupt changes. Just so you won’t think I am moralizing; I have made plenty of mistakes. I once owned a business where I was on a hyper-aggressive growth mode. My banker told me to slow down and focus on existing profit centers as opposed to opening new ones. “What does he know,” I thought, “he’s a banker!” He ended up being right, and I learned that my ego could overpower my innate rationality. I had another business I wanted to sell. The nature of that industry required an asset sale. I had over one hundred employees and knew that I would have to cease operations on the day of the sale, and then leave it to my buyer to decide what employees it would re-hire. I put the sale off for a year and half because I didn’t want to face what had to be done. I didn’t want to let my employees down. I had signed a confidentiality agreement not to disclose the buyer. I knew when I ceased operations that the closing would be in the papers and everyone would think that I had failed when in reality I struck a pretty good deal with the buyer. I don’t think I had ever been so fearful in my life, “people are going to think I failed.” Well, the day came, and the papers reported that the company had mysteriously closed, my greatest fear.  However, It ended up being a nothing burger. The fall out was nothing compared to the benefits of the sale.  I had let my fear get in the way of thinking clearly.  Sometimes we need to face our fears.  The benefits of getting over the fear far exceeds staying locked up and immobile because of the fear.

It wasn’t until I started doing corporate finance work for other businesses that I realized how much our human frailties blind us to seeing what is obvious to others. When a seasoned veteran of the business world has no investment or emotional attachment to a company, his judgment is unimpaired and can often see things that the owner who is blinded by his own prejudices cannot. It’s just a fact of human nature. I can’t tell you the number of times I have analyzed a company and immediately I see something the owner can’t see. Sometimes the advice is a windfall for the company and sends it on a positive trajectory. Sometimes the advice is to sell or shut down the business and to stop pouring good money after bad.  I’m not some Druid with magic powers, it’s just that it is much easier to make good calls when there is no emotional attachment.

I had an older friend, a notable investment banker who was always very kind to me. He was one of my biggest cheerleaders. He was well known and a local philanthropist. When he retired, he got into some bad investment deals. He had a big lifestyle and made many gifts to local museums and charities. He was the paterfamilias of a really nice family. When people are undergoing financial stress, they can’t think clearly. In trying to keep himself and his family afloat, he committed fraud and went to jail. When others spoke disparagingly of him, I defended him. I had seen what happened. I don’t think he cared if he lived in a one room shack. I’m convinced he did what he did because he didn’t want to let his family down. I’m sure in retrospect, he wished he had liquidated his big lifestyle and paid off his debt, but his judgment was blinded, and he could not see what the almost certain consequences of his failure not to have acted earlier. He was an exceedingly good man, but like all of us, he was human.

I’ve had experience in making decisions and have the luxury to look back and understand why I have made the decisions I have, not just in business, but in all facets of life. They won’t teach you this at Harvard Business School; the most important element in trying to make good decisions is to understand oneself. We are not like Mr. Spock on Star Trek. Our rationality is affected by our emotions. Understanding who you are and what drives you is not easy. Ego, fear, stubbornness, greed, jealousy, vengeance, pride, slothfulness can all get in the way of being able to foresee the likely consequences emanating out a particular decision.

I’m not a big believer in shrinks. I think they go to shrink school and want to be counselors because they are already fu#ked up. What I do believe in is friendship.

It was not until I was about 40 until I began to understand things about myself. I was a total left brain hard charger. I never talked to any friends of mine about things that bothered me. That seemed sissified. That’s what chicks did!  Men can’t have any weaknesses! To be perfectly honest, I was so out of tune with myself, I didn’t even know that anything bothered me. I just didn’t think that way. However, a series of events happened that caused me to open up with friends, and I discovered how therapeutic it was to let your guard down and have great discussions with good people. Laughing at oneself with a buddy is great therapy. I think being connected to others in a deeper way helps one understand oneself, and I think that is a tremendous tool to good decision making.

So to all you young colts out there slaying dragons, I’ll tell you what I’ve told my son. It really helps to talk to your buds, have great conversations and laugh at yourself. It’s good for your soul, and you will gain much insight to yourself and others.

Robert C. Smith is Managing Partner of Chartwell Capital Advisors, a senior fellow at the Parkview Institute, and likes to opine on the Rob Is Right Podcast and Webpage.

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