Monday, July 10, 2020

Time, Decisions and Action

The essence of Slow Leadership is the trinity of foresight, patience and decisiveness. The reason is simple: Time is the lifeblood of decisions and action. Without sufficient time, decisions must be based on guesswork or habitual assumptions. Actions either become reflexes or are made too late to change the outcome. In all today’s emphasis on decisiveness and decision methodologies, this simple fact is typically overlooked.

In the diagram above, Point A represents the earliest time in advance of some event when you can become aware of it and the choices it demands. If you make up you mind at this point and move into action, your decision is almost bound to be premature: too much time remains for circumstances to change, making your hastly choice into a poor one.

Point B is the optimum decision time. It is as close as is practical to point C, which is the point after which nothing you can do will change the outcome. By making your final decision and moving into action at point B, you still have enough “wiggle room” to make last-minute adjustments, or even abort altogether if you realize something critical has occurred.

Point C is the point of no return. Any action taken after this will be too late to change anything.

Point D represents having missed the boat. Whatever decision is made now will have no practical effect. Whatever is going to happen will do so.

Why Snap Decisions are Bad News

Todays’ emphasis on short-term viewpoints and snap decisions usually produces the worst of all situations. By focusing on the short term, it is unlikely that you will even become fully aware of the impending event before Point B, or even Point C, so there is no time to do anything other than react as swiftly as possible. Snap decisions must be based on guesswork or habitual ways of doing things: the time has already passed when you could have explored, planned or considered fresh options. As Point C rushes towards you, it’s now or never.

If you are indecisive at this time—or you have to clear your action with the boss, consult others, or coordinate with groups whose attention is currently elsewhere—the chances increase that you will be past Point C and well towards Point D before any action can become effective. It’s already too late. Whatever you manage to do now will not affect the outcome and you will be left to clear up the mess feeling frustrated and angry.


Not only is this kind of short-term, reactive management hopelessly wasteful and inefficient, it is also extremely stressful. You are forced from crisis to crisis, never having the time to do more that grab for the nearest answer and pray that you will still be in time. I don’t say people do this deliberately—though a few seem to have a kind of macho bravado that causes them to choose dicing with death as their preferred mode of operation. What puts the majority of harassed, frustrated managers into this trap is either (a) the tendency of their superiors to demand that all decisions are referred upwards, delaying action until the last moment since the superior is either over-stretched, indecisive, or working on a different time scale; or (b) being caught in a Catch-22, where there is never enough time to look ahead and anticipate problems, because you are always putting out the fires from the last mess caused by lack of time for anything other than a snap decision.

The Trinity of Decision Needs

The first is time. As I said at the start, time is essential to any sound judgment. Without enough time, you will always be in a rush, unable to think clearly enough or collect and analyze the information you need. Haste and short-term viewpoints take away most of that time. Slowing down helps by giving more opportunity to think and consider the options. The more time you can use before finalizing your choice the better. Rash choices and premature actions are very often regretted.

The second is foresight: it’s how you buy the time you need. By constantly scanning the far horizon, you can obtain a warning early enough to have time to think and consider. Looking to the long term isn’t about making predictions, crystal gazing or indulging in blue-skies thinking. It’s the solid, practical business of reconnaissance: making sure you aren’t caught napping or forced into hasty decisions because you weren’t aware in sufficient time.

Patience is the third ingredient in the trinity: the patience to use the time between Points A and B correctly. Waiting is hard sometimes. You’ll need to restrain any tendency to jump to conclusions or rush into a decision. You will be tempted to “get a jump on events” or set things in motion early, so you can transfer your focus elsewhere. Neither is sensible. Use the time to plan, consider alternatives, and have second, or third, or fourth thoughts. Above all, keep waiting and watching events, so you can shift direction if they change. Committing to action at Point B still leaves time for absolutely last-second alterations, if something happens before the point of no return is reached.

Slowing down and looking ahead may seem tentative compared with the methods of the Action Man School of Management. You will sometimes be criticized for being too slow and cautious. You may face laughter and ridicule. You shouldn’t care. Getting it right matters more. When the high-speed, short-term, “grab ‘n go” manager has crashed and burned, you’ll still be one piece, able to show the results that he or she frittered away.

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I am Todor Christov - Editor-in-Chief of - online magazine for management, business and development, which publishes materials only in Bulgarian language.

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