The Art of Strengths Coaching

D is for Decision Making And Doing Your Best At Decisive Moments


There are many approaches to making decisions and doing your best at decisive moments. This article explores some of the methods that people use to take these steps.

Different people have different views about what may constitute decisive moments. These include the following.

Decisive moments are when:

You make a crucial decision that has consequences – both for you and other people.

You manage a crisis, tackle a specific challenge or make the most of an opportunity.

You have a Eureka Moment when you see things clearly and then translate into action what you learned from the experience.

Some people believe that every moment is a decisive moment. This is because:

You make ongoing decisions in your daily life and the way you translate these into action has consequences – both for yourself and other people. 

Looking back, when have you taken some of these steps? Can you think of a situation when you focused on making a decision and then doing your best at a decisive moment?

You may have been making a decision about your health, a career change or a transition. You may have been helping your child deal with problems, making redundancies or managing a difficult boss. You may have been counselling a suicidal person, dealing with casualties after an accident or tackling another challenge.

What did you do then to make the decision? What did you do to clarify the real results to achieve? What did you do to explore the possible ways forwards and the consequences of each option?

What did you do to settle on your chosen strategy? What did you to pursue your chosen route? What did you do to encourage yourself on the journey? What did you do to do your best to achieve the picture of success?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you focused on making a decision and doing your best at a decisive moment.

Describe the specific things you did to take these steps.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of taking these steps.

Some people say that decisive moments can be overrated. They believe that we make many small decisions that are translated into habits that shape our futures.

Other people say the decisions we make at decisive moments have a profound effect on our lives. Leo Fernandez, the co-founder of TalentEase, emphasised this point in an article he wrote for Linked In.

Below are excerpts from the article. You can discover more via the following links to the article and the TalentEase website.


Are you making the most
of ‘decisive moments’?

We spend 90% of our time on the ‘straight roads’ of life but often it is the 10% of the time we spend making the ‘turns’ that defines where we end up.

These are the decisive moments- of work and life. How do we harness these moments better?

The term decisive moment was coined by the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. He used it to describe that fraction of a second when a photographer is able to capture the magic of the person or event he is photographing.  

As he put it to the Washington Post in 1957; “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture.  

“Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.  

“That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oops! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”  

That decisive moment makes the difference between a good picture and a great one.

It is also true of life. Each of us faces decisive moments, when we have to make critical choices in our lives. 

For many of us, business students and business managers beginning our careers our decisive moments are happening right now.  

Are we being watchful for them? Do we recognize them? And more important do we grasp the moment and act on it? 

As veterans will tell you, when you near the sunset of your life, your regrets are not the things you did, but often the things you didn’t.  

So let’s pledge to recognize and seize those decisive moments in our lives. They rarely come calling again.

Different people use different models for doing their best at decisive moments. The following sections look at some of these approaches.

The Three C Model

One approach is to use the Three C model. This involves focusing on clarity, creative and concrete results.

Imagine that you want to use this model when deciding how to tackle a challenge. This involves going through the following steps.

Good decision makers start by clarifying the ‘What’ before moving on to the ‘How’. When clarifying the challenge you want to tackle, it can be useful to formulate this in positive terms. For example:

“How can I stay calm?” rather than “How can I stop getting angry?”

“How can I build a successful team?” rather than “How can I motivate unmotivated people?”

Bearing this in mind, you may want to work through some of the following questions.


What is the challenge I want to tackle? For example: How to …? Looking at this challenge, what are the real results I want to achieve? What is the picture of success? What are the things I can control in the situation?


What are the possible choices for tackling the challenge? Option A is … Option B is … Option C is  … What are the consequences – the pluses and minuses – of each option? How attractive are each of these options on a scale 0-10? Are there any other potential creative solutions? 

Concrete Results

What is the option – or combination of options – I want to follow? How can I translate this into a clear action plan? Are there any contracts I need to make with other people to make this happen? How can I get some early successes? What else can I do to increase the chances of success? 

The Blue Head Model

Great athletes often need to perform when under pressure. Some coaches therefore provide the athletes with models they can use to stay calm at critical moments.

James Kerr describes one model for making this happen in his book Legacy, which is about the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team. Being an All Black is a great honour, but it also comes with responsibilities.

The players are expected to inspire the nation and win every match. Looking at the team’s history, this has sometimes led to the players having negative emotions and failing to deliver the goods. This has been exemplified by them making poor decisions in critical situations.

James describes how the players learned to feel calm rather than frantic in such situations. They switched to a state they called Blue Head rather than Red Head. Here is an overview of the two states.

Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, summarised this approach in one of his blogs. Below are excerpts from the piece that you can find via the following link.

The Talent Code

Quick background: a few years ago, the team was going through a period of uncharacteristic struggle. Some players were having trouble controlling their emotions in matches.

So, with the help of a former Rhodes Scholar named Ceri Evans, they devised a tool to fix that, built on a simple two-part frame that describes the mental state you want to avoid, and the one you want to be in. They call it Red Head/Blue Head.

Red Head is the negative state, when you are heated, overwhelmed, and tense (H.O.T., in the parlance). Your emotional engine is smoking, your perceptions are slow, the game feels too fast, and your decision making is rushed. 

Blue Head, on the other hand, is the precise opposite: the cool, controlled, pattern-seeing state, when you retain your awareness and your decision-making power, when you stay flexible and deliver top performance. The key is doing three things: 

1) Seek to stay in Blue Head as your default setting.

2) Sense cues when you are entering Red Head mode

3) Use a physical or mental trigger to get yourself back into Blue Head. 

On the All Blacks, each player is encouraged to devise personal triggers to make the transition. One player stamps his feet into the grass, to ground himself. Another uses mental imagery, picturing himself from the highest seat in the stadium, to help put the moment in perspective.  

Whatever tool you use doesn’t matter – what matters is realizing you’re in the wrong emotional zone, and finding ways to cool yourself off and get back in a high-performing head space.

A person who puts on their Blue Head is more likely to think clearly under pressure. They can then use their chosen model for making good decisions and perform at their best.

The Strategic Intuition Model

Some people seem to be able to make good decisions on the spot. One explanation for this is that they use strategic intuition. Let’s explore several ways that people may apply this ability.

William Duggan, who wrote Strategic Intuition, believes there are three kinds of strategic ideas that apply to human achievement. He describes these in the following way.

Strategic Analysis – where you study the situation you face.

Strategic Intuition – where you get a creative idea for what to do.

Strategic Planning – where you work out the details of how to do it.

So how does such intuition work? The following paragraphs are taken directly from William’s website, which you can find at:

Flashes of insight are so important that scholars have written about them for centuries.

The best description comes from an early classic of military strategy, On War by Carl von Clausewitz. Clausewitz gives us four steps.

First, you take in ‘examples from history’ throughout your life and put them on the shelves of your brain. Study can help, by putting more there. 

Second comes ‘presence of mind,’ where you free your brain of all preconceptions about what problem you’re solving and what solution might work. 

Third comes the flash of insight itself. Clausewitz called it coup d’oeil, which is French for ‘glance.’ 

In a flash, a new combination of examples from history fly off the shelves of your brain and connect.

Fourth comes ‘resolution,’ or determination, where you not only say to yourself, “I see!”, but also, “I’ll do it!” 

Gary Klein has written several books on this topic. These include Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions and The Power of Intuition.

Bill Breen has written an excellent article on Gary’s work in The Fast Company magazine. You can find it at the following link.

Bill Breen Article

Gary Klein has studied firefighters, medical staff and many people who make decisions in pressure situations. Such people often go beyond the process of calculating all the potential options. Speaking with Bill Breen, Gary explains:

I noticed that when the most experienced commanders confronted a fire, the biggest question they had to deal with wasn’t ‘What do I do?’ It was ‘What’s going on?’

“That’s what their experience was buying them – the ability to size up a situation and to recognize the best course of action.”

Gary goes on to outline the steps such people then take in high pressure situations.

They reach into their experience – going through it on ‘hyperdrive’ – to scan previous scenarios and see what lessons might apply to the present situation.

They are, at the same time, fully present: they look for patterns and clues to piece together what is happening.

They choose what they believe would be the best course of action and play scenarios about how this might work in practice.

Describing how Gary talks about expert firefighters, Bill’s article outlines what such people do next.

Once they make a decision, they evaluate it by rapidly running a mental simulation. They imagine how a course of action may unfold and how it may ultimately play out.

The process is akin to building a sequence of snapshots, says Klein, and then observing what occurs.

“If everything works out okay, the commanders stick with their choice. But if they discover unintended consequences that could get them into trouble, they discard that solution and look for another one.

“They might run through several choices, but they never compare one option with another.  

“They rapidly evaluate each choice on its own merits, even if they cycle through several possibilities. They don’t need the best solution. They just need the one that works.

“Experienced decision makers see a different world than novices do,” concludes Klein.

“And what they see tells them what they should do. Ultimately, intuition is all about perception. The formal rules of decision making are almost incidental.”

“We used to think that experts carefully deliberate the merits of each course of action, whereas novices impulsively jump at the first option,” says Klein.

But his team concluded that the reverse is true.

“It’s the novices who must compare different approaches to solving a problem.

“Experts come up with a plan and then rapidly assess whether it will work. They move fast because they do less.”

Doing your best at
decisive moments

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a decisive moment – or a decisive situation – you may face in the future?

You may aim to make a transition, go for a job interview or help your child overcome a specific challenge. You may aim to revamp your team, hold a difficult conversation with your boss or make a presentation to your venture capitalist.

You may aim to finish a project, take a break and then develop a new sense of purpose. You may aim to deal with a specific crisis, manage a health challenge or embark on tackling a new venture.

Imagine that you have chosen to focus on a specific decisive moment or situation. It can be useful to go through the following steps.

Desired results

Imagine that you are looking ahead to the decisive moment or situation. Here are some themes you may wish to explore. These can help to clarify the desired results.

What is the specific situation in which I want to do my best? What are the real results I want to achieve? If there are several results I want to achieve, what are these in order of priority? What is the picture of success?

What are the things I can control in the situation? What are the things I can’t control? How can I build on what I can control and manage what I can’t control? 

Bearing in mind the answers to these questions, here is the picture of success.

The Desired Results

The specific results I want to achieve
in the decisive moment or situation are:

1) To … 

2) To …

3) To …

Decision making

Imagine you are clear on your goals. The next step is to clarify how you can do your best to achieve these aims. You may therefore wish to explore the following themes.

What are the possible options – together with the consequences of each option – for working towards achieving the picture of success? 

Option A is: … The pluses are … The minuses are … 

Option B is: … The pluses are … The minuses are … 

Option C is: … The pluses are … The minuses are …

Are there any other possible ways forwards? What are the best parts of each option? Can I put these together into another possible option? 

What is the option – or combination of options – that I want to pursue? What are the pluses of this option? What are the minuses? How can I build on the pluses and minimise the minuses?

What are the potential problems I may meet on the way? How can I prevent some of these problems happening? How can I manage these problems if, despite my best efforts, they do happen?  

Looking at my preferred option, what are the key strategies I can follow to give myself the greatest chance of success? How can I translate these into a specific action plan?

How can I get a quick success? How can I encourage myself on the journey? What else can I do to increase the chances of achieving the picture of success? 

Doing your best to
deliver the desired results

Imagine that you have decided how to move forward. It will then be time to swing into action. Here are some themes you may wish to consider when taking these steps.

How can I prepare properly before moving into action? How can I organise my time properly – such as organising it in blocks? How can I rehearse what I am going to do? How can I then follow my chosen rhythm and get the desired results?

How can I click into action and be fully present? How can I pursue my chosen strategies? How can I deliver the required professional standards? How can I do reality checks about: a) What is working; b) What I can do better and how?

How can I deal with potential problems? How can I buy time to think when faced by crises? How can I find solutions by focusing on clarity, creativity and concrete results? 

How can I keep doing the basics and then add the brilliance? How can I focus on constant improvement? How can I do my best to achieve the goals? How can I then add that touch of class?  

Different people choose different ways to do their best during decisive moments. Some choose to conduct themselves in a caring way. Let’s look at one person who chose to take this path.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a decisive moment or situation you may face in the future? How can you then do your best to make good decisions and deliver the desired results?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to start by describing a specific decisive situation you may face in the future. It then invites you to do the following things. 

Describe the specific desired results you want to achieve in the situation.

Describe the specific strategies you can follow to give yourself the greatest chance of success.

Describe the specific things you can do to do your best to deliver the desired results.

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