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 ( 

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.