How to Make Smart Decisions Under Pressure
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Theodore Roosevelt
I’m drawn to the story line of a rookie in a cop drama. In nearly all cases, the rookie is up against a sink or swim situation or a type of initiation forced on him or her by the alphas in the pack. As expected, the rookie fails repeatedly. This is the point where lesser men or women quit.
But the rookie in our story (let’s call him Ethan) possesses mental toughness and overcomes adversity, including his internal struggles. In fact, he anticipated them from the beginning; he knew they were there to test his mettle.
The other key to his success was his ability to make smart decisions. Those decisions helped him stay in the game. More importantly, they won him the respect of the alphas.
At one point in our career, we all have been rookies. And if we get in the habit of starting from zero, we will continuously go through rookie initiation. Thankfully, most of us don’t have to contend with the type of rookie initiation that Ethan Hawke did in Training Day, but all of us have been forced to make decisions under pressure. Some of us are better or worse at it than others.
So when it counts, how do you prevent yourself from choking?
In one of my early careers, I was a news rookie. I had to make decisions fast but more importantly, decisions that resulted in little or no mistakes. One person’s mistakes impact the entire team. Mistakes resulted in a very real public humiliation. Failure and public humiliation remain my greatest teachers. (Thus, I seek them out such as writing this blog).
Inside a newsroom, every decision is measured against a clock. There never appeared to be enough time or information to make the kind of decisions that made one feel remotely comfortable in making them. I quickly learned not to judge my decisions as good or bad because doing so would have paralyzed me from making one. Then I would be no good to my team. It takes the focused effort of every team member to pull off a successful newscast.
As in a corporate setting, there was a distinct hierarchy in the newsroom. Yet to this day, I have yet to find any place, regardless of their role and rank, where people are forced to make a series of judgment call that have visible and direct impact on a final product, day in and day out.
How do journalists and the people behind-the-scenes in a news operation overcome indecision?
Here are three key things I observed:
- Rely on your past experience. Chances are you made a similar call in the past.
- Measure the consequence or outcome of a decision against the constraints. If I thought my indecision or my need to have additional facts poses more risks, I make the decision.
- Accept the consequence of your decision. This is the most crucial of the three. Indecision comes down to not wanting to deal with the consequences of your decision. Time and time again, I see this to be true, no matter the level of leadership within an organization. If you believe the consequence of your decision will lead to failure, embarrassment and monetary loss, you won’t make a decision. It takes a measure of confidence and faith.
How are you able to make smart decisions under pressure?