Making decisions in the middle of a crisis is difficult. Speed is vital, yet you don’t have all of the information you need.
The path forward is not always a smooth one. But as a forward-thinking leader, you have to use whatever information you have to make the best decision you can.
Words of advice for decision makers
Nobody said being a leader is easy. There are times when you’ll encounter challenging circumstances. Here are some recommendations for when you face these situations.
Get a lot of input from smart people
You’re used to having all of the necessary information at your disposal, but that’s not always the case in times of crisis. In the absence of comprehensive, concrete data, your best option is to crowdsource intelligence by talking with wise people with different perspectives. Gathering this diverse intel can help you make a more informed decision.
Don’t bet the company. Respectfully speaking, one of the worst examples of decision making in a crisis in my opinion was when Ken Lewis at Bank of America bought Countrywide. It looked like a great deal. It wasn’t. It has taken over a decade for Bank of America to deal with all of the baggage it inherited from the poor mortgage portfolio and practices of that business.
If possible, make decisions that don’t eliminate the ability to go a different direction in the future. Many high school seniors are doing this right now by putting down deposits at multiple institutions since they have not been able to attend an admitted students’ day or spend a social weekend on campus.
On the other side of this dynamic, college admissions professionals need to be careful about using historical algorithms on yield. Unfortunately, political leaders can’t really act incrementally and preserve optionality on the decision to “reopen” from the COVID-19 lockdown. Talk about a hard decision.
The “reopening” will also require business leaders to make difficult decisions on “how to go back to work” and think through questions like having people come back in stages or how to handle working parents as kids remain out of school.
Create a T-chart
A T-chart is a simple method for helping organize your thoughts when evaluating options. It can be used to map out the positives and negatives of a particular decision. Every time you receive new information or input, add it to the chart to create a dynamic analysis. Once it settles down and stops moving, you are ready to make a decision.
Have a moral compass
One college president used to tell me, “I always make decisions based on what is in the best interest of the student.” Recently, during a discussion about an employee matter, a great executive said, “What is in the best interest of the employee? We have to do what is best for him.”
In normal times, I recommend getting buy-in from key executives on a decision so you know they will be fully behind the implementation. In a crisis, however, the leader has to make the call. It is not a time for a democracy but rather more of a benevolent dictatorship. The leader must lead. I believe in servant-leadership but in urgent times, your style may need to shift.
Trust your gut
Decision making during uncertain times is all about judgment. The decision won’t clearly be right or wrong for a while – everything is gray. My best advice is to always trust your gut.
Don’t look back. The goal is to get more right than wrong, not to be perfect. No regrets, plow forward.