7 March 2019

Enabling good decisions in a hyper-complex and uncertain world:

An Article By Natalie van der Veen

How do I exercise my decision-making ability? How much consultation is too little or too much? Is any decision better than no decision? If this is a group effort, how can I facilitate better thinking?

Mentorship is prolific amongst leading businesses, with an American Society for Training and Development study revealing that 71% of Fortune 500 companies have a form of formal corporate mentorship.

These questions continue to bother leaders as they grapple with the most effective way to have an impact in an ever-changing, increasingly demanding, fast-paced, complex and hyper-connected world. How can we ensure that we are decision-fit? When resources are limited or in overwhelming abundance, how do we guarantee that we have the necessary space and time to effectively think ‘on the run’?

The average adult makes 35 000 decisions in a single day. That is 10 times more than the average child. Those in active leadership roles have responsibilities that transcend personal objectives. To avoid decision fatigue, Barack Obama, for example, is said to have eliminated ‘average’ decisions from his daily repertoire, resulting in him always wearing the same colour suit and tie.

Leaders’ decisions impact belief systems, societies, economies, cultures and environments. The intensity and far-reaching consequences of their decisions mean that executives and businesses recruit consultants and rely on intensive market research, often delaying a decision and aiding missed opportunities. Leaders are plagued with theories and opinions on how to optimise decision-making. This is the irony of a decision: one can only truly understand its impact post action. Naturally then, confidence and self-belief become important manifestations. Accountability must also be firmly intertwined into the decision-making process.

A simple Google search will reveal tactics for staying on top of your decisions. From making big decisions early to avoiding decisions altogether, it appears that sceptics cannot quite agree on what differentiates a healthy decision from an unhealthy one. Point is – business demands decisions to be made on time, in spare moments, on the run, at pace… CEOs, executives, managers, teams and coaches rely heavily on a combination of experience, intuition and research in order to make accurate, fair and impactful decisions.

The Decision Book (Krogerus & Tschäppeler) summarises 50 – yes 50 – decision-making models. It includes the well-known matrix of urgent vs. important and Johari Window as well as the less conventional Swiss Cheese model, amongst others. With the many available models, the decision then becomes identifying which one would work best.

Nancy Kline coined the term Time to Think, relying on ten competencies to create spaciousness that encourages one’s best thinking. Independent thinking is a rare commodity; and that’s a pity, as it allows for innovation, development and growth. Such a vital skill that is in such high demand appears available for a short time only, reserved for the youth that flirts with imagination and constantly asks open-ended questions, like the infamous, “Why?”

Kline encourages the following when facilitating fresh thinking with a fellow human being:

attention; a sense of equality; ease; appreciation for one another; encouragement; a conscious decision around physical space; asking incisive questions; emphasis on and the understanding of diversity; sharing information; acknowledging and allowing for feelings.

These proven capabilities are well-aligned to the behaviours practised by business coaches across the globe. According to the International Coach Federation, representing ethical and high-quality coaching, 77% of businesses are in a state of perpetual change, with priorities and strategies constantly shifting. Coaching is a proven means of supporting resilience, change management competence and innovative thinking.


While artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to dominate headlines and headspace as we brave this Fourth Industrial Revolution, the art of being human remains critical in the leadership of the future. While we claim to be more connected than ever – superficially delivering empathy through WhatsApp messages and diverting accountability with an email sent – World Health Organization reveals rising depression scores that may suggest that we are feeling more isolated than ever. Bookshelves are compressed with self-help books, advocating that one leans in, works less, thrives more, possesses grit, invests in a mantra, invests in self, invests in an island…

Information overload only further prompts a magnitude of stifling questions: What do I want? How can I get it? Who is ultimately responsible? What matters most?”…

We have no choice but to be active in mastering our clarity of thought. And we may just need to rely on others in order to do so. The ability to connect, to engage in relationships and demonstrate sincere curiosity for our fellow humans may be what differentiates leaders in the future.

Coaching is an indispensable intervention to declutter the mind and consider these questions. A coach is a qualified thinking partner, offering you the spaciousness to deliver your best thinking while supporting your active role in the decisions you make. A coach will both challenge and empathise. A coach will not counsel or console. The coach’s role is to navigate a mind that is overstimulated by its hyper-complex environment. Neuroscience tells us that thinking is impaired when our adrenals are hyperactive – responding to the never-ending illusion of threat given our daily stresses, both real and imagined. The Fourth Industrial Revolution boasts that technology is in favour when competing with a human being. However, coaching is the second fastest growing industry after IT. Why? There is little substitute for human connection. Consider the ever-volatile industry of retail banking, where voice prompts have seductively replaced human beings. With a commodity as emotional as money, it is only fitting that people ask to be met with compassion, empathy and active listening – traits exclusive to the human race.

It is no coincidence that the term, ‘coach’ has its roots in the sporting industry. A coach is an expert; and yet, the coach is not the one ultimately responsible for the team’s victory. it is never the coach who takes up first place on the podium and proudly accepts the winning trophy. The coach is quietly positioned on the sidelines; sharing in a team’s success without occupying centre stage. The coach respects, motivates, challenges and trusts. The team is ultimately accountable for action and success. And like any excellent sporting coach, a successful business coach lives in service of others – a leadership manifestation that is being increasingly celebrated across organisations.

Successful decision-making is a balance of science, models, data and research with a considered blend of intuition, critique of assumptions and spaciousness to deliver on authentic and creative thinking.

Dr Charlene Lew, senior lecturer at GIBS, describes the importance of considering bias when making a decision in the 2nd quarter 2018 Acumen magazine: “Bias is insidious and very hard to spot: one’s own biases operate under the radar because they are so “obvious”…”. While you cannot eliminate bias, you can sharpen your thinking by becoming aware of your biases and not simply trusting your first impression or intuitive response. Considering that often the more complex the decision, the more a leader may rely on gut feel, not trusting instinct may seem counterintuitive. However, it is important to confront your biases by challenging your social norms, anecdotal evidence and your primary assumptions.

Kline speaks to the power of thinking circles – gathering data by asking a single question to a multitude of individuals without entering into dialogue. After collecting your personal library of thoughts and opinions, allow ideas to permeate your independent thinking.

I opted to do exactly that: to ask a single question, casting my net far and wide, to harvest as much wisdom from as diverse a group as possible. This led me to identify the following, with which you may agree or not. That is – well – your decision to make…


  • Don’t overthink the decision once it has been made.

  • Make a decision with the end in mind.

  • Practice self-belief and view yourself as a subject matter expert.

  • Consider how often you have made a mistake (Quote: Experience as mistakes) – learn to trust yourself.

  • Write down the pros and cons.

  • Listen to those around you who may be impacted by the decision.

  • Gather expertise/ input/ information to increase confidence in the decision.

  • Practice patience: take as much time as possible to make a decision.

For more on business coaching, contact coaching@GIBS.co.za