Although education programmes are constantly being renewed, innovation does not always lead to anchored changes in educational practice. One explanation is that educational innovation evolves more dynamics than often is assumed. Instead of following a well-designed plan, the core activities of innovation leaders hinge on the ability to swiftly identify and interpret situations with which they are confronted. This suggests that the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous (VUCA) innovation process requires a specific repertoire from innovation leaders, including a better understanding of their internal decision-making processes. In our search for a fitting repertoire, we discovered the capacity for “situational awareness” as a concept to help understand complex situations and to determine very quickly what needs to be done. Additionally, we focus on how innovation leaders make decisions at significant moments during the innovation process in higher education. We describe how our discovery leads to the development of a lens for innovation leaders, with situational awareness as a starting point, and supplemented with the filtering, framing and guiding function of beliefs as steering principles of internal decision making-processes. This allows to gain a better understanding of how the innovation leader identifies critical situations and responds in terms of interpretation and action.