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The Emotional But Rational Decisions Good Leaders Make


The Emotional But Rational Decisions Good Leaders Make

IKEA has quietly engaged in a stunningly strategic move.

As reported by INC.: “After 70 years, hundreds of millions of copies, and countless hours of inspiration to armchair interior designers… It has decided to kill its beloved catalog.”

In a statement, the company said, “Over the years it has become an iconic and beloved publication, and it has been an important success factor for IKEA to reach and inspire the many people across the world.”

And then added these telling words:

“But times are changing. IKEA has become more digital and accessible while embracing new ways to connect with more people. Customer behavior and media consumption has changed, and the IKEA Catalog has been less used. [IKEA has] therefore taken the emotional but rational decision to respectfully end the successful career of the IKEA Catalog, both the print and digital versions—and look to the future with excitement.”

If you are a leader, it’s hard to end something you created and invested in that yielded success (and likely that you were emotionally attached to) simply because you were astute enough to realize that it had run its course. In fact, ending such things for that reason may be the single-hardest thing a leader can actualize.

Hence the insight into the four words IKEA used to describe the decision, noting that it was an “emotional and rational decision.”

Yes, such decisions always are. And the dynamic present between the “emotional” and the “rational” is critical to understand. It’s not like saying, “We used to ship by FedEx, but now will be going with UPS.”  It’s more like saying, “We are ending a way of doing things, a shared experience and fond memories, and venturing into an emotional vacuum.”

This is also why such decisions are seldom made, and when they are made are so fiercely resisted by those with an emotional investment. It’s simply too easy to reject “emotional and rational” and cling to “emotional and irrational.”

Why? For church members:

… you’re not just closing a site, you’re ending a community;

… you’re not just ending Sunday School, you’re changing what “going to church” on Sundays has meant to you;

… you’re not just moving to a new location, you’re taking away my memories of all that took place there;

… you’re not just changing the music, you’re changing how I’ve worshiped;

… you’re not just… well, you get it.

Back to IKEA. Imagine how emotional it must have been to end a catalog that was first put together in 1951 by the founder, Ingvar Kamprad. At its peak in 2016, IKEA distributed 200 million copies in 32 languages.








But notice, again, the reasoning:

“But times are changing. IKEA has become more digital and accessible while embracing new ways to connect with more people. Customer behavior and media consumption has changed, and the IKEA Catalog has been less used.”

That is an understatement. IKEA.com’s worldwide online retail sales increased by 45% last year alone. They have needed to pivot, along with the rest of the retail world, to a digital strategy that includes a “continuously improving company website, a suite of apps and social media.” So yes, the resources once used to promote the catalog were much better spent in new and more strategic ways. That is the rational speaking to the emotional, which, I might add, is the heart of emotional intelligence.

What if more church leaders (and the people in those churches) chose emotional intelligence over mere emotion? What if they made more “emotional but rational” decisions regarding ministry, outreach and organization? What if they looked at the digital revolution that has taken place and evaluated previous strategies accordingly?

Someone recently asked me about our church’s decision to end the multi-site approach to outreach in order to pursue a more digitally based approach. While it was a lengthy process of prayer and reflection, evaluation and dialogue, I remember a watershed moment. It was during our annual budget development process, and we needed to bring all that we wanted to do in line with our best projections of what we would actually have to spend.

This is an annual exercise, of course, but this year was different. I had long been wrestling with the effectiveness of our sites as an outreach tool as compared to the potential the digital revolution was offering. Suddenly, in those budget meetings, they came into stark contrast: We were locked in to spending enormous amounts of money on rental facilities and staff-intensive weekend services at various locations around the city and, in doing so, didn’t have the resources to continuously improve our website, invest in digital marketing, take our app to a new level and make our Online Campus state of the art in terms of outreach potential.

Like never before, I was confronted with where our money was going and where it could go, and having to say “no” to what I knew would bear more fruit made me want to throw up in the corner. But close the sites? Are you kidding me?

The emotional was running headlong into the rational.

I’ve written more about our decision in “Why We’re Ending Our Multi-Site Approach” and “Update on Meck’s Big Decision.” But in truth, I made the decision then and there. For one strategy to be less effective than another and to continue to invest in it would have prohibited us from having the available resources to invest in what would be clearly better.

The “rational” has to win, no matter how emotional the decision to close the sites was for everyone involved in starting and sustaining them.

(And after all things COVID, we are only more grateful for the decision we made.)

So here are three key lessons for every leader:

  1. The times are always changing. Time doesn’t just change once, and then you are set for a lengthy season of doing things the same way. The times are always changing. So what works now will almost certainly not be what will work then.

  2. You must acknowledge that you have emotional attachments to things that can cloud your objectivity in terms of their effectiveness and ongoing strategic worth. Please reread that sentence.

  3. Emotional intelligence is acknowledging the emotion involved, but letting the facts speak to the matter and then making the hard, necessary, “emotional but rational” decisions that will ensure your ongoing vibrancy.


Justin Bariso, “Ikea Just Quietly Killed Its Famous Catalog. It’s a Brilliant Lesson in Emotional Intelligence,” INC., December 31, 2020, read online.

“After 70 successful years, IKEA is turning the page on the Catalog,” Ikea.com, read online.

This article originally appeared here.

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James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.