The Leaders Playbook: Decision Timing

“Do I need to make a decision on this right now?”

This seemingly simple question is one of the most important ones I ask myself and my team every day.  “When” we choose to make decisions can have as much impact on the decision itself, yet this timing is an often-overlooked element of decision making.

In reality, few decisions, other than those decisions that could impact lives, need to be made immediately. 

Our society has changed.  With the advent of mobile email, text messaging, and the 24/7 news cycle, we are constantly being bombarded with information, and along with that oftentimes comes an expectation that we will make quicker decisions in order to “keep things moving”. 

In my experience, this is not true.  Most times we need to slow down our decision-making timelines and gain as much understanding as possible of the situation before making critical decisions.  Smart evaluation of the pro’s and con’s of a decision and the second and third-order consequences is a big part of sound and accurate decision making – and timing is a critical variable. 

Timely decision making comes with experience and thoughtfulness and frankly just keeping the timing of a decision on your “radar”.  Thinking about the “when”, as well as the “why” is key.  A few considerations on when to make a decision include being able to understand the human or situational dynamics of a potential decision while looking at the level of risk associated with a decision, and who owns or shares that risk with you.  (More on this in a future piece). 

So, be deliberate and thoughtful in the timing of your decisions. 

One last note.  Delaying the timing of a decision to let the situation develop or learn more about the context is very different than refusing to make a decision or avoiding making one.  Be honest with yourself and your team about this and be clear on what you are doing as a leader.

If you want to dig into the academics of decision making, I recommend you check out the work of Dr. Jennifer Lerner up at the Harvard Kennedy School (https://www.hks.harvard.edu/faculty/jennifer-lerner). 

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leaders Playbook: The balance between risk and resourcing

For years I’ve kept a small notebook handy all the time.  The ones from my deployments are worn, stained, and full of rich incredibly insightful notes and lessons. 

I spent much of 2018 and 2019 deployed in the Middle East working with some incredible leaders engaged in the fight against ISIS and terrorism.  As I paged through my deployment notebooks this morning, I was reminded how much thinking we did on risk and resources and the tough decisions that came along with these challenges.

Some lessons I learned and re-learned during this past year:

  • Even in combat, there are restrictions on resources.
  • As leaders regardless of our role(s), we must always be very deliberate and thoughtful on what priorities we are going to resource, and equally clear on what we are not going to resource, and why.
  • Resourcing and risk are inextricably linked.  Leaders must have a laser focus on understanding the various elements of risk and how, if at all, we may control that risk level to an acceptable level. 
  • Be as clear as possible on the type and level of risk you are dealing with; risks to strategy, risks to our forces, risks to our mission, risk of inaction, etc.
  • Oftentimes there are disconnects between strategy and the essential resources that underpin them – which drives risk levels.  Seek to identify those disconnects and work to align resources but be mindful that we as leaders may not control all the dynamics at play.

Making smart, informed, and sound resourcing decisions in a risky environment is hard and gritty work.  Sometimes people’s lives, national interests, or business interests are at stake but making these difficult decisions a fundamental component of what leaders get paid to do. 

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leader’s Playbook©: Planning for, and handling, Contingencies

Premeditatio malorum – The Pre-Meditation of Evils.  A Stoic approach to planning for contingencies.

“No plan survives first contact with the enemy… or Murphy”.

Combat, business, and most certainty life never seem to go the way we want them too.  When things turn for the worse the question is two-fold; how we are going to handle the situation, and what did we do in advance to prepare for it. 

What the American Fighter Pilot and Special Operations Forces do better than anyone else in the world is plan for, and handle contingencies.  Oftentimes multiple contingencies at the same time.

Tragically these lessons have been paid for oftentimes with the blood of our Brothers and Sisters.  A famous example of this was Operation Eagle Claw, the 1979 attempt by the United States to rescue our hostages held in Iran (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Eagle_Claw).

What you do in your planning efforts and how you think about, anticipate, and train for contingencies regardless of what you do in life will go a long way to ensure that Murphy does not ruin your day.

Daily ask yourself and your teams, “What specifically are we doing about the contingencies and how will we be ready for X?”.

The Author is currently serving as an active-duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.

The Leader’s Playbook-12: “You are making a decision”

When I was a kid and was out of line my Mom used to say “You are making a decision to act this way..” Normally I was acting poorly or being a s#$t.

This simple statement, always delivered in a calm and loving voice, shut me down every time. Every time.

Thinking of her reminds me never to forget that we have a vote on how we perceive situations and how we act, or react, to them.

May I choose well.

The Author is currently serving as an active duty military officer. Any comments or recommendations on this post or on this site are solely my personal views and do not represent the position of any branch of the United States Government.