The Room Where It Happens
Right you were, Aaron Burr, sir.
There is indeed a room where it happens. There’s a place where the game is played and the sausage gets made. There is a table where decisions are happening over dinner.
My friend Clayton (who inspired this post) calls one of the best-known tunes from Hamilton “the most organizationally perceptive song I have ever heard in my life.”
Two Virginians and an immigrant walk into a room…
In any organization, in any institution, in any tribe or friend group or family, there are decision makers. While many may have a voice, not all will have a vote. There comes a point where a few from the crowd get out of the crowd, go behind closed doors, and get to the business of making the hard call.
Here’s the thing about decision rooms: many groups have multiple rooms that exist under the same org chart. Some people make decisions in only one room. Some speak into decisions in many rooms. And rarely will everyone have a seat in every room.
But there is a room where it happens.
No one really knows how the parties get to yes…
When we are merely followers…be it in our workplaces, in our churches, or in our nation…it’s easy to question the motivation in the hearts of those in the room. We often look at the final decision and grade it with a pass / fail. We don’t often consider the questions that were asked, the research that was studied, or the input that was given in getting to the final decision. We don’t know the prayers prayed or the arguments had or the agony endured to pull the trigger and move forward.
And because of that, it’s easy to villainize those who were in the room. When we see only the finished product but we don’t hear the discussion, we tend to distrust the final decision because we weren’t in the room where the discussion happened.
You get love for it, you get hate for it…
If you’ve never considered the fact that there’s a room, one of three things are true:
You’re in the room and don’t know it. You’ve been in a position of authority for so long and decision-making rights are handed to you so naturally, that you don’t really consider what you do being in the room. You just do what you do.
You’re so far away from the room that you can’t see it. You just assume that decisions happen, someone is making the decisions, and love or hate those decisions, you’re not thinking about the room where it happens.
You’re suffering from entitlement syndrome. Some of us think we need to be in on every decision. (Believe me, I’ve been that guy and sometimes still am that guy.) But let me break it to you – and remind myself – you don’t have to be. You shouldn’t be. Wait for it, wait for it, and it will happen at some point. In some room.
And here’s the pièce de résistance…
Let’s take in what Lin-Manuel showed us through his musical genius:
If you know there is a room, you shouldn’t fight the fact that there is a room.
If you fight the room…or you decide the room is as dark as a tomb…or you demand the right to be in the room…you end up like Aaron Burr.
If you are in the room…you need to share the room. Those with the privilege of sitting at the table need to make sure others have the ability to pull up a chair. Hoarding power rarely means that you gather respect.
If you recognize that a decision-making room is a natural part of any organization…if you know that the room is not inherently unhealthy…if you let the room be what it is…if you listen to the room and advise the people who are in the room…you end up like the hero of Hamilton. Not Alexander, but Eliza. And you may be the one who gets to tell the story of the room where it happened.