How to Make Difficult Decisions Under the Pressure of Infinite Leadership

We were in a canoe, paddling furiously in great wild waters. Every decision had just seconds, every stroke was important. If we got the balance and timing wrong, we would tip over, and swim at the mercy of the dangerous currents.

“Brace! Brace!” I shouted at my friend in the bow.

Too late.

It is counter-intuitive to send body weight towards the current. A brace stroke leans towards the water and slaps the paddle face hard against the surface to flick the canoe right side up again, our head coming up last. Instead we have an instinct to scramble to stay upright, and this just pushes the gunwale down into the water, capping.

The pandemic has felt like a continuous run of crazy wild waters. Dime decisions are made, and we constantly adapt to stay on the water. We lean away from uncertainty and eventually sprint.

The bread of a leader’s butter is to make decisions. Doing them under endless pressure in constantly shifting conditions can tear the best of us down. Here’s how to improve your decision-making leadership skills.

The first leadership responsibility is for yourself.

One of the essential shifts we have to make to move beyond chronic overwork is to maximize our energy. If we are to become other people’s talent magnifiers, then we need to be the current that transports us all, even when the river runs loose in flatter ground.

Clear the decks

To set yourself up for success, clear the decks. Create some space. Break commitments where you can. You literally need space to allow your brain to sort what’s important, what’s not.

Check your leadership mentality: are you playing a victim or a victor?

It’s easy to fall into the ‘woe is me’ narrative. Things really suck. We feel out of control, stuck, with no end in sight. So face it down. That is all true.

We don’t need to let it defeat us. We are responsible for our own narrative! We can create what’s next, we get to choose our attitude.

Leadership frameworks for the hard decisions

I have written before about surviving difficult decisions and the leadership principles you need in an emergency.

There are a few decision filters that are useful when under pressure:

  1. Does this decision align with our values?

  2. Have we checked and verified our assumptions?

  3. What is the stronger impact of this decision? Can we live with that?

  4. Are our people safe?

  5. What are some of the possible unintended consequences of this decision?

  6. What is our next best step after this decision?

  7. How can we reduce harm and promote recovery?

Sometimes we do not have the luxury of time. A barrier pushes just below the surface that we had not seen or expected. We need to steady the ship, prepare to brush, and lean into it.


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