Quarterbacking is Easier on Monday
…given the difficulties facing a president during an emergency, immediate and conclusive action only happens in the fairy tale model of crisis management espoused by opposing politicians and crank pundits.
~Presidents in Crisis, Michael Bohn
I’m sure you’ve heard the term “Monday morning quarterback.” It has to do with the people who criticize quarterbacks the day after the game. There’s no doubt that quarterback is one of the most highly scrutinized positions on the football field. After all, literally everything that happens on offense runs through the quarterback — whether or not they are the ones doing the play-calling, they are the ones who run the show on the field.
It’s a whole lot easier to watch the footage in slow motion and say that the quarterback should have thrown it to a different person on a particular play than it is to actually be on the field with multiple 300lb lineman trying to take your head off.
The same is true in other areas of life as well. In Presidents in Crisis, Michael Bohn takes a look at one major crisis that each United States president faced from Truman to Obama. It’s an incredible study on crisis management and decision-making for a group of people who have incredible power in such times.
And, one thing becomes very clear, there are no right answers. There is rarely a crisis that is perfectly handled. But there is always an overabundance of people who seem to know how it could have been handled better, especially after the fact, away from the pressures of time and with the benefit of more information.
I wonder what our political landscape would look like if we had fewer opposing politicians looking to score points and fewer pundits looking for views/clicks. More and more, I’m getting to be of the opinion that the 24/7 news cycle is a bad thing. And that allowing anybody with a loud enough voice or a big enough platform to chime in 24/7 is somehow a good idea.
People have differing opinions, and that’s fine. I would even encourage it. The problem has become that people have no idea how to see the other side of things. There’s no empathy. There’s no understanding. There’s no honest effort to put in the work to find a middle-ground.
I appreciate the above quote’s description of a “fairy tale model” of crisis management because that’s exactly what is going on more and more. One of the more recent examples, of course, is the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Far and away, the response that I have seen is that it was poorly handled. And, maybe it was, I have no idea. But the truth is that it never was going to be a clean extraction. No matter who was in charge. When it was all happening, I seemed to remember a lot of people getting upset about U.S. withdrawal from Syria under the previous administration. The bottom line is that there is no clean way to do something like this that will make everyone happy.
Here’s the rub with decision-making: you can’t make a judgment on the quality of a decision based on the outcome. Because the outcome is not part of the equation before the decision is made. Let me see if another sports analogy can help this make sense.
In the 2021 NL Wild Card game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers, the teams were locked in a tight 1–1 game going into the bottom of the 9th inning. With a runner on base and two outs, Cardinals manager Mike Schildt brought in Alex Reyes from the bullpen. Was this the right decision?
Here’s the information we had: the current pitcher did get the first two outs of the inning, but then he walked a batter. He had thrown 18 pitches, only 8 were for strikes. Typically, this would seem to indicate that maybe he was trying too hard and overthrowing, causing him to miss his spots, or just having a hard time hitting the strike zone in general. In either case, with a good hitter coming to the plate, you don’t want to make a mistake that could be hit into the gap and wind up scoring the winning run. So, Schildt turned to the bullpen and called in Alex Reyes.
Reyes had earlier in the season set a Major League record for consecutive saves to start a career. But shortly after that, the wheels came off, and he blew a number of saves that ended up costing him the closer job late in the year. Schildt, however, had faith that Reyes was the right guy in that situation because when he is on target, he is nearly untouchable, and a strikeout was the best case scenario in this moment. So, what happened?
Reyes gave up a two-run home run that cost the Cardinals the game and ended their playoff run. With the benefit of the result, it is easy to say that Schildt made the wrong decision. But do you really think Schildt would have put Reyes in if he knew that Reyes was going to give up a home run? Of course not!
We can certainly criticize the decision that was made. After all, Reyes had not been good for the last month or two of the season. He was falling apart in high leverage situations. My stomach dropped when I saw him coming out of the bullpen. But the quality of a decision is not based on the outcome.
We have to be willing to surround ourselves with people who can give us quality advice and quality information. We need to build a decision-making process that aims for the best outcomes, but we can never build one that can give us the outcome we want every single time.
And so, with that in mind, perhaps we need to have a little extra grace with the outcomes from other peoples’ decisions, knowing that we can’t always predict the outcome, no matter how good the process may be.