Timing of decision-making and leadership are often wrapped up together. Right now, there are so many arguments raging about the timing of leadership decisions. Re-open the economy, deem services as ‘essential’, return to the office, reduce costs, go virtual, and so on. All of these topics require timely decisions. It seems as though more and more people see timing as right or wrong … predominantly when they are personally affected.
As a leader decision-making is something that comes naturally. Afterall, leadership is a responsibility invariably accepted by those who are comfortable with making decisions that impact other people. There are a minority of leaders who find decision-making onerous or who reluctantly don the mantle of responsibility – a topic for another article. But leaders who make decisions often have to accept that the timing and impact of these decisions will be seen subjectively by others.
How do you know whether a decision is right or wrong?
Some former Presidents of the United States of America had some interesting techniques:
Benjamin Franklin: wrote lists of pros and cons on a piece of paper; struck out items on both sides that seemed to have similar weights (or combined them to make weightings equal); waited a few days; the longest list determined the best decision.
Abraham Lincoln: surrounded himself with great people (often his enemies) who were not afraid to table the best information; considered all points of view and then decided.
Theodore Roosevelt: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
There are some leaders who consider decision-making to be their responsibility and those who will be impacted by their decisions are just waiting for them to decide. They have ultimate wisdom, insight, and authority. Consultation is not considered because it could come across as a weakness or lack of leadership. In my opinion, this type of leader is missing some of the fundamentals of leadership; humility, empathy, and listening.
Of course, a leader who does not make decisions and prevaricates, vacillates, and hesitates, is not someone who is easily followed. People are looking for leaders who have courage, foresight, and good judgment. Making decisions with these three qualities is characteristic of a confident leader.
The best leaders are those who know how to make the best decisions at the best time in the best way. By definition, this means that decision-making has different guises. Decisions that are urgent often require leadership experience, instinct, and courage. Decisions that impact many people, if not critically urgent, often benefit from consultation, considering options and outcomes, and more careful communication.
So, when is the time right for a decision? If I knew the answer to this question every time, I would be as wise as King Solomon. But there are conditions leaders can consider that influence the timeliness of decision-making. These include implications, risk, urgency, impact, and cost. A single person does not often hold absolute wisdom to be able to make the best decisions every time. That is why great leaders are those who know how to lean on great people. What I might think to be a good decision, may indeed prove to be right. But then again, it may not be the best decision. Being able to consider different points of view, weigh up outcomes, be mindful of all affected parties, and take external forces into account, often requires a collective view rather than a singular opinion.
The timing of decision-making may or may not be critical, but the carefulness and precision in which a decision is crafted can often make or break a leader.