“Wake up. We have to leave now and head to the nearest beach. An out of control bushfire is burning towards us.” These chilling words from my wife Anne jolt me awake. It is 6:05 am on Tuesday, New Year’s Eve. Anne wakes our daughter Eleanor, son-in-law Tim and 6-month-old granddaughter Audrey. I take the follow up phone message: “Evacuate now.” An internet search identifies the Hanging Rock Sports Club as the only evacuation center in Batemans Bay. Moving quickly, we pack both cars. We leave Anne’s family home, our miniature groodle Milly tucked away on the back seat. It is 6:25 am. Many complex, agonizing decisions lie ahead of us.
Little did I know the bushfires were just the start of a prolonged period of uncertainty and crisis for Australians, then humankind, on a scale not experienced in living memory, as coronavirus cuts a deadly path across the world, separating families, friends, and workmates, collapsing health-care systems, destroying economies. All with horrendous impacts on the marginalised and disadvantaged. And never before have so many of us been called on to navigate daily decisions with potential life and death consequences, none more so than the millions of frontline workers, first responders and those keeping essential services running around the world for our benefit.
For the past 20 years, a large part of my work has been supporting leaders around the world grow and develop their capabilities, including enhancing the quality of their decision making. Recently, my work with leaders suggests the sheer scale and prolonged nature of the Covid-19 crisis is stretching, testing, and reshaping the ways they approach decision making. As the boundaries of personal and work lives are disrupted, and individual and collective traumas occur, ‘go-to’ frameworks are proving insufficient.
My bushfire experiences provided a refinement crucible for my approach to decision-making; the coronavirus crucible continues. Here are three of my key learnings:
Wherever you are being called on to lead — be it a large global organisation, your work team, in your community, your family or yourself — my paper offers practical entry points to enhance the quality of your decision making. I hope you will also find some clues to answer another big question these times ask of us: “How do I become what is needed right now?”
Postscript: At the time of writing the US is besieged by multiple raging wildfires, destroying lives, homes, forests and livelihoods. My heart goes out to all those who are being directly and indirectly affected.