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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On the Difficulties of Decision-Making

King Guy at his wedding, 1180 [Public Domain]

Politicians who have made the attainment of leadership their lifework make bold statements of how they will conduct the country when they are in power. But when that time finally comes, they often do the precise opposite of what they had formerly preached. In my country, when this happens, the deviation is justified by a phrase taken from a popular song: "Things that are seen from there cannot be seen from here". In other words, they explain their actions as pragmatism rather than deceit. It is all very well to say you will do "A" when you are not in a position of power, but when you are, you become acquainted with factors that you were not formerly aware of, and so, rather than do "A" as you had promised, you have no choice but to do "B". You made the promise in good faith, but at the time you simply did not have all the information. This explanation might often enough be true, but it is used to cover a host of dishonest actions and it goes a long way to explaining why the public has little trust in the commitments of politicians.

A political career does not always encourage honesty, but it certainly does require courage. It is no easy thing to take on a position of leadership, and it seems to me that even when one disagrees with a leader's decisions, one has to admire his or her willingness to face harsh criticism, and to take on responsibility for the well-being, sometimes for the very lives of one's fellow citizens. And it doesn't really matter that the politician's motivation for doing so is often self-aggrandisement. A leader is always in the firing line. Think of what it means to be the one to make decisions in as critical a time as we are now going through and consider the backlash that those who do so poorly will eventually have to face from an outraged public. Even leaders of non-democratic countries, who are able to hide the extent of their failures through a control of information to their public, will often be called to account in the end. In any crisis, even those leaders with the best intentions and who make the best decisions possible will find themselves and their leadership under a barrage of criticism both from the public and from their own expert advisers. This is where real leadership is required. In following the decision-making in the early stages of the present medical crisis, it seems that almost every bit of advice given by one expert is strenuously opposed by another. A strong leader must take calculated risks when necessary, but always with the good of his people foremost in mind. A weak leader will allow his decision-making to be influenced by his own fears of failure.

When, in the summer of 1187, Guy of Lusignan, who had been king of Jerusalem for barely ten months, mustered his entire army at Saforie in the eastern Galilee, his decision-making appears to have been primarily influenced by the desire to stave off criticism and avoid appearing a coward. The question that needs to be asked is, to what degree beyond those personal motivations was he considering the risk he was placing on his army and indeed on the entire kingdom? His kingship had been opposed from the beginning by the so-called "nobles’ faction" led by Raymond III of Tripoli, the former regent of Guy's predecessor, the child king, Baldwin V. Guy, Queen Sibylla, the Templar Master, Gerard of Ridefort and the obstreperous lord of Karak, Raynauld of Châtillon, formed the "court faction". The outcome of this rift in allegiances was that, at the most critical point in crusader history, any decision made by Guy would be open to harsh criticism by Raymond and his camp, whereas, any opposing suggestion by Raymond and the Hospitallers would be regarded by the king as suspicious, all the more so as rumours were circulating that Raymond had made a secret treaty with Saladin.

Consequently, when on 2 July 1187 Saladin laid siege to Tiberias and a war council was held by the Franks, Raymond argued strongly against engaging in battle and Gerard of Ridefort was equally vehement in favour of advancing against Saladin. Although Raymond's arguments were sound and in accordance with the usual Frankish tactic of avoiding direct battle, in particular when the numerical odds were so obviously on the side of the Muslims, Guy decided to follow the advice of the Templar Master. The chronicler Ernoul gives an account of Gerard's argument, and it fully exposes the mistrust Guy had of Raymond on the one hand, and on the other, how the Templar Master played upon Guy's fears of failure:

Lord, do not believe the advice of the count. For he is a traitor, and you well know that he has no love for you, and wishes you to be shamed, and that you should lose the kingdom. But I counsel you to start out immediately, and we with you, and thereby overcome Saladin. For this is the first crisis that you have faced in your reign. If you do not leave this pasturage, Saladin will come and attack you here. And if you retreat from his attack the shame and reproach will be very great.”*

We all know how this ended. Guy took the disastrous course of following Gerard's advice. He did so in an effort to show himself as decisive, but he only ended up exposing his indecision and weakness. Of course, had the battle been a Frankish success, history might have judged him differently. But Guy had failed in more than battle. His personal inadequacies and his fear of failure were so great that he was willing to endanger the entire kingdom and the lives of many of his people to protect his reputation. It is a lesson some modern leaders would do well to consider in the present challenge.

* Quoted in Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood. A History of the Order of the Temple, Cambridge, 1994, p. 112.

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