How I Approach the Toughest Decisions

Our choices reflect and determine who we are.

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Photos by Pete Souza

There was something liberating, and humbling, about leaning on a process.

Of course, that only works if you listen — really listen — to others. For me, that meant asking everybody in a meeting what they thought about the problem at hand. I’d call on folks in the back row, including the most junior staffer. That required people to come prepared to share their views.

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When you have a tough, almost unsolvable decision to make, you don’t just want people to tell you what you want to hear.

You also want to create space to think. Remember that dinner and haircut break I took during that marathon economic session? That mattered, too. That was part of making the decision. Even in situations where you have to act relatively quickly, as was frequently the case during the financial crisis, it helps to build in time to let your thoughts marinate.

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Dad, husband, President, citizen.

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