How to make tough decisions under pressure

Former Canadian Football League referee Glen Johnson says the key to making the right call is to get everyone on board and communicate clearly

CFL SVP of Football Glen Johnson

CFL SVP of Football Glen Johnson officiated 216 games over his refereeing career. (CFL)

After officiating 216 Canadian Football League games (including 11 Grey Cups) Glen Johnson, now the league’s senior vice president of football, has developed a knack for snap decisions. Here’s how he makes split-second decisions when the clock is ticking:

“An official goes through an abbreviated decision-making process on every call: What’s the right thing to do? Do I call it or not?

“The process needs to start well ahead of the actual decision. It’s about having complete, expert-level knowledge of the things you’re going to be asked to deal with. I try to create a simple priority matrix: What really matters, and what’s just noise? I process that against all the work I’ve done in advance and come up with what I think is the right thing to do.

“Often, bad decisions come from a place of not wanting an equitable outcome. On the football field, if I decide to make up a rule by myself and say, ‘This is the way it’s going to be. I don’t care what anyone else thinks,’ that would fail. But if I know there’s joint ownership of the outcome, then I’m much more likely to be successful in making the right call. We do a lot of hard work to make sure the teams, coaches, players, general managers and fans understand the criteria and are on the same page. I try to pre-prescribe as many outcomes as I can, so I know, if this thing happens, here’s what we’re going to do.

“When I have to explain my decisions, I like to use terminology that is as clear as possible: ‘That doesn’t meet the holding standard because he didn’t lose his position.’ That way, everybody knows, quickly, why I made the call. It erases any confusion.”