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U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he walks from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Sept. 27, 2012, to Marine One, en route to Virginia.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

George W. Bush called himself "the decider in chief" when he was U.S. president. And in a profile of Barack Obama in Vanity Fair, author Michael Lewis gleans the following insights about decision-making from the current president:

Mr. Obama wears only grey or blue suits, as part of an effort to limit the decisions he makes in a day. "I don't want to make decisions about what I'm eating or wearing," he told Mr. Lewis, citing research showing that the act of making a decision degrades your ability to make other decisions. "You need to focus your decision-making energy."

Nothing comes to his desk perfectly (or easily) solvable – otherwise, someone else would have handled it. "So you wind up dealing with probabilities," the President said. "Any given decision you make you'll wind up with a 30- to 40-per-cent chance that it isn't going to work. You have to own that and feel comfortable with the way you made the decision. You can't be paralyzed by the fact that it might not work out," he said. Leaders must pretend to be absolutely certain their decisions will work out.

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At a crucial meeting about whether to establish a no-fly zone over Libya, Mr. Obama chose to go beyond the players at the table, who represented various government departments, and ask other advisers for their views. After hearing concerns from that second ring of advisers about what the senior officials had recommended, he gave the top honchos two hours to come back with a new option.

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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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