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Faculty Research Working Paper Series
Steven Kelman
Albert J. Weatherhead III and Richard W. Weatherhead Professor of Public Management
phone: (617)496-6302
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“I Won’t Back Down?” Complexity and Courage in Federal Decision-Making
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.
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, noticably 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.



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