The wisest boss I ever had used to say, “Time is on your side.” No matter what the issue, he seemed to indicate, there was no reason to rush into deciding what to do.
I worked as a Human Resources Director in the division he managed. He had had a previous assignment in Human Resources, and he was very familiar with the personnel issues we handled. He was a good coach and mentor.
Many of the situations we worked on together involved deciding whether to fire an employee or not. In most of those situations, his advice to act deliberately was spot on. As time passed after the situation came to light, more information became available, tempers cooled, and the right course of action became clear. Even when there were differing opinions, the passage of a few days often revealed a path that could achieve a consensus.
- Sometimes management reached a consensus to discipline the employee short of termination, when hotter heads might have pushed for discharge.
- Sometimes the employee left of his or her own accord, seeing the handwriting on the wall. Then no decision was necessary.
- Sometimes we agreed not to fire the individual, who then either shaped up and was salvaged or screwed up again and was fired with a stronger case.
- Sometimes the termination provoked a lawsuit, but our cool deliberation made the situation more defensible in court.
I learned a lot from that boss—about taking the time to make the best decision possible. He was usually right.
Except when he wasn’t.
On some occasions, time is not on your side—a decision has to be made quickly. The trick to being a good manager and leader is knowing when you can delay to obtain better information and when you must make a call immediately.
Situations where time is not on your side typically involve potential death or injury, or significant property damage or damage to reputation that cannot be undone.
But even on these occasions, if you can take a few moments to consider your options, you are more likely to make a good decision.
Another helpful tool when forced into crisis mode is to make an incremental decision. Can you break the problem up into pieces and deal only with the most pressing issue for the moment?
Only experience will help you determine when you can wait to make a decision—when time is on your side—and when you need to make the call immediately. Just knowing that this is one of the issues you need to consider is a help to strong decision-making. Let time be on your side when you can.
When has time been on your side? When has it not?