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Decision making during uncertain times

Making right and quick decisions is a challenging task, even during normal circumstances. Making bold decisions during an unprecedented crisis is one of the hardest things for a leader to face.

Postponing decisions until leaders have all the information they need is an approach that makes sense during business as usual – however in the current economic climate, decision making is defined by uncertainty and urgency and waiting to make a decision is simply not an option.

The balcony perspective

Any military officer would know the importance of maintaining the capacity for reflection, especially in the “fog of war”. Similarly, great athletes would simultaneously observe and play the game to win. The balcony perspective is often compared to getting off the dance floor and going on the balcony to see the full picture. Taking a step back helps to regain a perspective and see things from a distance, which can help to understand the complexity of the situation.

Research shows that the simple act of pausing even for a few seconds allows the brain to focus on the most relevant information. Even with limited time available, it’s essential that leaders stop for a moment and take a step back to reflect on the current situation. When the pressure is high, we naturally feel tempted to get straight into execution mode and jump from one urgent task to another, but this can lead to rushed decisions and even more uncertainty.

The temptation during crisis is for leaders to put themselves in the centre of all activities and decisions to ensure that all is going well. However, successful decision making requires decentralisation of the decision-making power with clarity on intent and priorities. And even while prioritising short term actions and making their priorities clear, leaders still need to keep the long-term direction and vision in mind. Clarity of purpose, both long term and immediate, allows teams and individuals to be empowered to make the right decisions.

Managing the response to crisis

During a crisis, which is ruled by unfamiliarity and uncertainty, effective responses are largely improvised. Whilst being guided by the business’ vision and strategy, leaders need to respond to unplanned events as they unfold – often having to move back and forth from the balcony to the dance floor, over and over again to gain understanding and adjust their decisions as today’s plan can make sense today but might be no longer relevant tomorrow.

For many businesses, the pandemic will span a wide range of actions – from temporary moves such as working from home to ongoing business practices, which will be maintained even after the crisis has passed. What leaders need during a crisis in not a predefined response plan, but mindsets that will prevent them from overacting to yesterday’s developments and help them look ahead.

Unprecedented crises demand unprecedented actions. During these uncertain times it is necessary to take bold and quick actions which might feel too risky during normal times as leaders can’t afford to wait when events are unfolding as fast as they are.

At Acumen we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes. In most cases we design the interventions specifically for each customer, but we also offer a wide range of off the shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information, contact

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