Military style strategic decision making for positive leaders

By Declan Noone


Over 20 years of serving as an officer in the Irish Defence Forces has thought me the importance of developing a deliberate strategic decision making process. Of course, the time available dictates the extent of your analysis before you decide and execute the plan. In the military, they teach us a deliberate process that allows for a systematic analysis of a multitude of factors.  Looking at these factors closer and putting my business glasses on, they can be translated to the business world:


  • Expected resources that will be assigned (personnel, time, money, technology, etc).
  • The operational environment (internal and external stakeholders).
  • The opposing forces (competitors).
  • The weather conditions and terrain (the market place).


In the Defence Force, assessments are made by subordinates, briefings given to the commander, and his/her decision is sought at key junctures in the process. In a very classical, autocratic leadership sense, commanders are expected to have the knowledge and insights that enables them to make the right decisions at the right time.


Adding positive leadership skills

Now we know that decisions taken in an autocratic leadership style often fall short compared to decisions taken in a collaborative, generative environment. In today’s VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world, where not only the dynamic rate of change but also the volume of information can be overwhelming, leadership responsibility across organisations will need to be dissipated and shared. A positive and mindful leader is consciously aware of these requirement, as well as, the challenges they pose. Consequently, positive and mindful leader are ‘context creators’.


In the sphere of decision making either military or otherwise, what does ‘context creator’ mean? Well it means a number of things:

  • You have clarity of thought and purpose.
  • You are consciously aware of your cognitive biases and how they impact your personal decision making process.
  • You positively communicate in a manner that encourages active and constructive participation in the decision-making process.
  • You understand how you influence the context of the analysis through the question you pose.
  • You are mindfully aware of the consequences of your decision.
  • You demonstrate integrity by accepting responsibility for your decision.


What are the practical steps you can take to achieve these objectives?

  • You set aside adequate time to personally examine the data and understand the challenge the is posed.
  • You invest in developing your understanding of your own mindware, the components of your thinking and behaviour and how some of the following may influence you:
    • Body – are you tired, hungry, energetic, etc.
    • Perception – what cognitive biases have played a role in how you process information.
    • Memories – how do you draw on past experiences and are those real and factual.
    • Emotions – what emotions are you feeling as you draw conclusions and make decisions. Have broadened your perspective and build resources through positive emotions or have you narrowed your focus and shut out alternatives as a result of negative emotions.
    • Social Radar – what environmental factors influence you. Is how you are perceived by those around you a driver in your decision making.
  • Place your message on paper. Write down what you want to achieve and how you expect to get there. Build a message that not only resonates but poses a challenge to your team and enables them to use their skills and knowledge to identify the best recommended course of action.
  • Spend time on the wording of your question: Avoid leading questions like: How do we partner with X? rather than ‘What is the best entity for us to partner with? If your question narrows the focus, you will get the answer you want rather than the answer you need.
  • Every decision has a consequence: Ensure in your personal and team decision making processes that you the consequences on organisational culture, values and members are examined.
  • Develop a regular mindfulness practice: The benefits are proven. It will significantly inform your personal decision making practices, enabling you to develop greater personal awareness and focus.


We at Serrano 99 work with our clients to help build and develop leaders that embrace the challenge faced by creating the right context. We seek to educate positive and mindful leaders in the fundamentals of positive leadership, using our Knowing, Doing, Being approach to leadership development while focusing on: Mindware; Behavioural Fitness; Mindfulness; Positive Communication; and Behavioural Decision Making.  Developing an effective and efficient deliberate decision making process must go side by side with developing a cohort of positive and mindful leaders.

Posted on August 4, 2017 in Insights, Positive Leadership

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