REALITY #20: Knowing when is just as important as knowing what and how.

Good leaders know what has to be done, and they can figure out how to get it done. Great leaders know what has to be done, they can figure out how to get it done, and they have the capacity to determine when best to do it. They know that timing can be everything.

Timing must be a central and critical component of any decision-making process.  Prudent timing can foster acceptance, support, and cooperation.   Poor timing can engender rejection, hostility, and antagonism.  The fine art of timing is by no means simple.  The factors that can and do affect it are numerous and complex.  Central among them is a broad and deep situational awareness. Such an awareness can only be achieved through careful and constant monitoring of changing situational factors, coupled with thoughtful consideration of potential unintended consequences.  Even though such efforts are far from foolproof, they are well worth the time and effort.

To be sure, there are factors that are either difficult or downright impossible to accurately figure into the metrics of well-timed decisions and actions.  There are also unknown factors, that can come out of nowhere and scuttle a leader’s best intentions.  History provides countless examples of both poor and great timing.

Although romanticized in the folklore of the Old West, the Pony Express only operated for 18 months (April of 1860 to October of 1861).  It could carry mail by horseback more than 1,800 miles in ten days—an amazing feat in 1860.  However, by October of 1861, telegraph lines were completed between New York and California. The Pony Express was obsolete overnight. Its owners and operators were victims of poor timing.

Throughout 1940 and 1941, President Roosevelt began positioning a war-reluctant country for potential roles the US may assume in the escalating world conflict.  However, it was not until the attack on Pearl Harbor that he asked Congress for a declaration of war.  After such an attack on the home front, support for the war effort was all but universal, unleashing the largest war effort the world had yet seen.  Roosevelt’s timing was perfect.

As a leader, a well-defined and continually refined sense of timing is indispensable.

12 thoughts on “REALITY #20: Knowing when is just as important as knowing what and how.

  1. What a perfect lesson for these times. The timing of decisions has been so crucial. The problem here lies with the every changing ways of influences on education during the Covid time. Great lesson all around to think about when and how to make decisions.

    1. The instant-communication age in which we live has indeed given new meaning to the timing of decisions. For decisions to remain valid for any length of time, they must be subjected to an ongoing review of current situations and developments. If not, they can most definitely become problematic in both their intent and their application. Thanks for your comment.

      1. I am finding myself more and more overwhelmed by all of the modern day “instantaneous” communication – phone calls, texts, emails, social media…. I have discovered that I am prone to immediate, and therefore, not always thoughtful, responses. I am learning (the hard way) through difficult conversations with parents and staff that I need to take the time to think and reflect before responding.
        Thoughtful and sometimes prayerful reflection gives me time to calm myself and engage the more rational part of brain, rather than reacting, I can actually respond appropriately. I need to improve in determining what things require immediate action and what things require a more measured response.

        1. As you suggest Elaine, some situations permit leaders to take their time in the decision-making process, while others do not. When there is available time, making use of it is generally prudent. As you suggest, knowing the difference between decisions that must be made immediately and those that can be made after some careful thought and consideration is an important and often difficult process.

    2. Hey James! I agree with what you said. I think it is just as important to know how to make decisions more than the timing. Covid definitely forced us to make many critical decisions in a short period of time. As Dr. McGough said many times this past week, it is crazy how history can teach us lessons!

    3. Hey James! I agree with how much change has taken place over the past year. How the decisions are made might be more important than when they are made.

  2. Timing is everything! As school leaders, we are in charge of our families, ourselves, our students, our faculty/staff, our communities. We must not only decide when the timing is right to introduce a new school initiative or call a parent, but we almost have to predict the future when it comes to our timing.
    Timing is very important, but slow down when making decisions and take time to put our schools and families in the best positions to be successful.
    As I recently learned from the beginning of the Leadership Under Fire course, the timing was such a key factor in the Battle of Gettysburg. If we get eager as Sickles did at Little Round Top, we could put our schools in uncomfortable situations. If we plan out strategies and time them just right like Meade was able to do, we can do amazing things!

    1. Justin, your comment about taking time to establish priorities for various constituencies is a point well stated. The challenges of leadership would be reduced significantly, it decisions could be based on a simple one-size-fits-all timing standard. However, many of the best opportunities in leadership would be lost. So often the best opportunities that come to leaders arrive wrapped in tough challenges. Thanks for your comments.

    2. I agree. Sickles was not a team player. He needed to stick to the game plan! He compromised the greater good. Sickles should have conferred with a peer about his intention to advance. It’s good to check impulses with others when practical.

      1. As you suggest Justin, good leaders know and respect how their decisions and actions fit into the larger game plan(s) of the organization. When leaders start going rogue, the consequences can be devastating to the organization.

  3. I agree that good leaders must look at how their timing and decisions must fit into the goals of the organization. I think it’s important as leaders to communicate with the organizations leadership before making impactful decisions regarding the institution. Collaboration and input are essential to gauging timing. This is important for implementing new initiatives. Besides timing, the manner of implementation is equally important to gaining the buy-in from the members of the organization.

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