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Hard & Fast versus Late & Slow

The title might sound like a movie, but this article is about unpacking decision making.

We need leaders to be confident in their decisions so we can hold them accountable. We desire leaders to lead, wanting them to be early. They achieve this by listening to the signals and reacting before it is obvious to the casual observer. However, those in leadership which we hold accountable do not want to make the “wrong” decisions. A wrong decision can mean liability, loss of reputation or perceived to be too risky. A long senior leadership career requires navigating a careful path between not taking too much risk by going too “early”, which leads to failure and not being late. Anyone could have made the decision earlier and looked incompetent. Easy leadership does not look like leadership as it finds a path of not being early or late (the majority)

When we unpack leadership trends over the past 100 years that include ideas such as improving margin, diversification, reduction, speed to market, finance lead decisions, data-led, customer first, agile, just-in-time, customer centricity, digital-first, personalisation, automated decisions, innovation, transformation, ethics, diversity, privacy by design, shareholder primacy, stakeholder management, re-engineering, outsourcing to name a few. Over the same period of time, our ideas of leadership styles have also evolved.

There is an inference or hypothesis that we can test, which is that our approach to risk means we have the leaders that we now deserve. Does our risk create the leadership we have, or does leadership manage risk to what we want is a cause and effect problem that results from the complex market we have?

The "Ladder of Inference" below is a concept developed by the late Harvard Professor Chris Argyris. To help explain why anyone reading this and looking at (the same/a) set of evidence, we can draw very different conclusions. However, the point is that we want leadership who has the courage for decisions that are “hard and fast”, but what we get “late and slow” Data led, waiting for the data, following the model all confirm that the decisions we are taking are late and slow. We know there is a gap; it is just hard to know why. Hard and fast occurs when there is a lack of data or evidence and rests on judgment and not confirmation, the very things we value but penalise for at the same time.

Right now, we see this with how the government reacted to COVID; we can conclude with hindsight that no one country leadership got it right. The majority appear to continue to get it wrong because the voters will not vote from them if they take the hard choices, follow the science, follow the data making sure we are late and slow.

Climate change and COP26. There will never be enough data, and waiting for more data confirms our need to manage a risk model that does not account for the environment with the same weight as finance.

Peak Paradox

The Peak Paradox framework forces us to address the question, “what are we optimising for?” Previous articles have highlighted the issues about decision making at Peak Paradox. However, at each point, we should also consider the leadership style “Hard & Fast versus Late & Slow.

The Peak Paradox model gives us a position in space, at each point where we are, thinking about hard & fast vs late and slow introduces a concept of time and direction into the model.

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