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‘Smart Switching’ in Good Leadership

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Going through the textbook descriptions of leadership traits, one would likely come across dozens of chapters on integrity, dynamism, charisma, vision, positivity, inspiration, et al. Rarely would one come across the nuances of leadership decision making under stressful and difficult situations, or relative to complex relationships and conflicting goals.

I am often confronted with situations while multi-tasking, where quick decisions are required to be taken under stressful conditions with negligible reaction time and with important long-term consequences. Over the years I have somehow become seasoned in dealing with these types of situations. However, I was recently stumped by an unusual audience question during an Educational Leadership Conference where I was the keynote speaker. I was asked by a professor of a medical college to name the one single key to good decision making in such situations. I dare to confess, I did not have a straight answer. There was no magic mantra which I could spell out. And that led me to reckon and introspect within to get an answer; and I did!

‘Smart Switching’ is what I figured out. It is no secret that all of us in leadership roles constantly multi-task. Good leaders follow the principles of prioritization and queuing of urgent and important work (incidentally they are different and poles apart in functionality). However, when confronted with multiple urgent and important decisions, under constraints of time, the leader either buckles under stress or his decisions lack impetus and depth.

That is the time when one has to exercise a ‘Smart Switch’.  It’s actually simple if practiced over a course of time. Imagine a typical situation of a Monday morning for the CEO of a multinational company. He could be faced with a situation which demands multiple quick decisions – all at the same time. Say, a finance decision on one hand as it’s the finance quarter-end closing, an urgent procurement to be negotiated by lunch, a prescheduled new-product presentation to attend, the usual Monday morning weekly meeting of Heads of Departments, a conference call with overseas office before they close, the list seems endless. And not to forget the nagging friend asking for a nine-hole game in the evening, his wife’s long text message pleading to attend the first equestrian class of the son, and if that is not enough, the Outlook inbox showing hundreds of unread mails from over the weekend – two of which are reminders from headquarters of a missed deadline of the monthly sales report. Gosh! While it seems impossible to many, it is a situation which a leader faces more often than not.

So what do we do? We make a ‘Smart Switch’. Take each decision at a time. Concentrate, focus and collect the right ‘dashboard’ for a decision. The dashboard being a set of right inputs, suggestions, risks and consequences given by your teams. Trust the dashboard.  Decide to decide fast and not procrastinate. Once decided, believe in your decision. Give a clear path for execution and then forget about it. Switch to the next situation. Concentrate on the next dashboard. Repeat the process. Decide, forget and move on.

As I said, it is not easy and comes with time and experience. But one has to begin somewhere. For me ‘Smart Switching’ has always paid off, with the right decisions being made in a short period of time. Remember, leaders do not have all the time in the world to decide. Decision-making requirements keep pouring in and the leader has to keep pace. And, frankly speaking, that is the leader’s job; to make measured decisions. 

So, try ‘Smart Switching’ and see the change!

Dr Cdr Kartikay Saini is the Chairman of Scottish High International School, Gurgaon. Dr Saini is an ex-commander of the Indian Navy, and spent 15 years serving the nation before turning to the corporate world. He is also former-Chairman and current Board member of Special Olympics Bharat, an organization that mentors 1.4 million Indian athletes with disabilities. He is the first Indian to be appointed to the Board of Special Olympics International, which mentors special athletes in 177 countries across the world. Dr Saini is a pioneer of inclusivity in education and has been recognized and awarded numerous times for his contributions to education and special needs.

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