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Being decisive and winning the dog fight

Written by Paul Mead – Performance Consultant, Paul Mead Consulting

As leaders, we understand that having a strategy is an essential part of success. But a strategy without action is just a pretty piece of paper. The strategic leader needs to be able to turn this plan into action, understanding how it is to be used in the current environment and bring along the rest of the organisation with them.


According to some recent research, an adult makes up to 35,000 decisions per day. Many of these decisions are minor impulsive type decisions (we make over 200 decisions each day about food choices), but others, especially for leaders are critically important ones. So, as leaders, how do we take decisive action when it is required?


As an ex-New Zealand Army Officer, I like to look towards my military education to find insights for leaders. One lesson that has stuck with me and rings true for strategic leaders of all persuasions is the OODA Loop.


Colonel John Boyd, a US Air Force Fighter Pilot introduced a concept in the 1950’s called the OODA Loop. Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act.

Paul was the National Winner of the 2016 ALEAs Emerging Leaders award

Col. Boyd noted in the Korean War, that despite the US aircraft being less maneuverable than the Russian made MIG’s, they were winning the majority of the dogfights.

Part of the reason being, the US F-86’s had a better field of vision and hydraulic controls that enabled faster maneuverability. This ability to observe and then orientate themselves faster, meant they could disrupt the actions of their enemy.

He emphasised to his pilots the need to observe and orientate faster than their enemy in order to make superior decisions that ultimately would save their lives.

This concept of the OODA loop can be directly applied to the process that exceptional strategic leaders display, in taking decisive action around those important decisions, within the 35,000, they make every day.


Observe – The strategic leader is constantly observing the environment in which they operate. They can identify what is a risk to their organisation and where opportunities to exploit lie.


Orientate – The strategic leader orientates their organisation into a position to either mitigate the risk or take advantage of the opportunity.

This ability to orientate the organisation should not be underestimated. This is where the strategic leader earns their title. A failure to correctly orientate will spell disaster in the next two stages.


Decide – The strategic leader is decisive in their decisions. They know when they have enough information and when the timing is right to take action. They decide on a course of action and launch into it with full force.


Act – The strategic leader acts at the right time, always. Their action is well planned and they have contingencies in place for when the situation changes. Success is likely, rather than as a consequence of luck.

Strategic leaders know that the ability to orientate their organisation takes more than charisma. It takes the ability to clearly communicate the need to implement change or transform a business process through a clear vision. This vision is built upon observation that is rooted in research, analysis, experience and gut feelings.

When it comes time to make the decision, the strategic leader has motivated their team to adopt the vision as their own, knowing that the challenge is to ensure that the odds are stacked clearly in their favour. The strategic leader knows that their tactical leaders have the information they require to influence, lead and win their dogfights, contributing to the broader strategic plan.


This is the art of strategic leadership, one dogfight at a time.

Paul will be one of many speakers at our upcoming Brisbane Conference on the 2nd November 2017. Book Now to hear Paul and many other specialists in their respective fields discuss attributes of successful leaders at this full day event.


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