Crisis Leadership 5 – Decisions

“Nothing is more difficult and thus more valuable than making decisions.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

You are the pilot of a plane that doesn’t function normally.  The trajectory or altitude or speed or any other vital flight parameter have gone berserk.  You are the captain of a professional, trained and disciplined team.  Yet all eyes look at you and all hopes cling on you.  Because you are the one making the decisions – for life and not death.

The black box will record your commands and regardless of how the crisis will be ending you will be analyzed, commented and blamed.  Your human reactions have the opportunity to become the topic of meetings, courses or reports.  Many third parties will calmly judge based on post-factum information whatever you have done good or bad.  The subjectivity, tiredness or pressure to which you have been exposed will not matter in the annals of posterity.

However in the hard times of crossroads you must assume your decisions based on information that is mostly imperfect, truncated or debatable.  One said “anybody can make the right decision when all necessary information is available.”  You do not have this privilege.  Uncertainty is a normal presence in normal times, but it can become an overpowering enemy in times of crisis.

You must be also the lord of time, which is the brief moment when your decision can save the day.  Delaying decisions aggravates the chances of success.  Many times, in order to minimize uncertainty one attempts to bend time.  And “time has no patience”.

When you deal with the panic of crisis, the decision maker’s courage is crucial.  It doesn’t matter that you are the best specialist in the field, it doesn’t matter that you have charisma and empathy.  What matters is the courage to fully play the role of a leader who chooses a path.  Of no return – impossible in times of crisis.

All these superhuman requirements weigh enormously on the shoulders of the pilot in times of crisis and build around him a high wall of loneliness made of the courage of being at the wheel, responsibility for everybody’s fate and possible blame afterwards.

Napoleon was right – a leader who experienced all of the above.