Leadership: The Risk of Indecision

Leadership: The Risk of Indecision

Jun 24, 2013

Building your business takes work.

A combination of people, ideas and effort that has led you to where you are today.

Perhaps you have reached this point without much resistance or maybe the road has been exhausting. But either way you are now here; wherever that may be.

One of the most influential activities a leader takes on to get to “Here” is their decision making. Many decisions being made every day. Even the decision to delegate is a decision.

When the decisions become too much some leaders freeze. As if the hardest thing for the leader to do is move.

However you must not fall into this trap!
 

Why “Doing Nothing” is Bad for Business.

 
How would you react if I told you that the conscious choice to do nothing (indecision) is every bit as “high risk” as doing the wrong thing?

Let’s take this one step further and ask the following.

Have you, or any leader you know ever known that a change needed to be made, yet chose to continue on with the status quo?

Perhaps it was a change in personnel. Someone on the team wasn’t meeting expectations?

Maybe it was the strategy. Results weren’t meeting projections and it was clear that they wouldn’t any time soon?

What about operations? Cost accounting clearly indicated that you were overpaying for certain supplies and would be more profitable if you moved your purchasing to Company B.

Was it something else?

Now ask yourself another question.

Why was the decision to do nothing made?

There are a plethora of reasons for inaction. However the most common reasons that leaders decide not to act really aren’t sound, and in fact most of them are just plain bad.

Before we move on and further discuss why we choose not to act I want you to visualize one more thing.

Go back in your mind to those decisions where you or the person you know chose to “Do Nothing.”

What was the ultimate outcome?

If I were a betting man I would say that in 90%+ of the situations, ultimately the apparent change was made at a later time. Whether it was the change in personnel, strategy or operations; eventually the decision had to be made only it was made weeks, months or years later. Costing the business time, energy and often morale.
 

Why We Can’t Make Decisions?

 
While it seems that the decision not to decide would be rooted in some great level of complexity. My unscientific response would be…It is not.

I have spoken to dozens of business leaders who have struggled to make decisions and most of them will give you reasons like the following.

  • Even though I knew that he was not the right person for the job, I didn’t want to let “Bob” go because he was a really good guy and I thought that just maybe something would change.
  • It was apparent after 2 months that the strategy we selected wasn’t going to work, but I felt like we spent so much time planning for this that I wanted to give it more time. Now 6 months later I’m right where I started.
  • Deep down there was no doubt that “Acme Corp” had risen our rates 20% above market, but we had been with them for 10 years and it seemed like the cost of change would be more than the premium we were paying

 

Sound Reasons vs. Excuses

 
As I listen to the rationalizing going on from these leaders, myself included, I think about how much these answers mirror what we in the leadership world like to call excuses.

Now before I proceed, it is without a doubt that there are sound reasons to “Do Nothing.” However, the reasons I outlined above are not what I call sound.

Let’s look at the difference.

Above we mention “Bob,” the unfit employee that needed to be changed but the business leader didn’t do anything because he is a nice guy.

If the business owner had said, “Our company has had a great struggle with morale and my concern was that letting Bob go would be more damaging than having him stay. I’m working on a 60 day plan to move Bob into a new role and replace him with someone more fit in his current role.”

Big gap between the first reason right?

In the more “Sound” response above the business leader is saying he understands the inaction, is cognizant of the risk but also aware of the downside of changing too aggressively, and has a finite plan to handle the situation.
 

“You don’t need more time, You just need to Decide” ~Godin

 
The risk of a wrong decision can be great. But one must note that the risk of no decision may be just as great if not greater.

Sometimes having the courage to act is the most important thing for a business leader.

Chances are that the mere fact that you are human means that errant decisions lie in your future. Make fewer than others and you may very well come out ahead. However, if you choose to make no decisions you will leave yourself in neutral and allow inertia to take control.

Any leader that has let the hands of time take the wheel of their business knows the outcomes are usually not as desired.

So make decisions, even though sometimes they are hard. Have a process, ask great questions, but commit to being decisive.

Believe in what brought you to where you are and know that you won’t get them all right.

Waiting for the perfect circumstance is as realistic as expecting the difficult change to happen on its own.

Leading isn’t for everyone; that is the first decision of many more to come.

5 comments
L3Chris
L3Chris

Great post, seems like everyone agrees in here. I do too, but...

I believe the larger impact or weight of the decision, the more time you should take on it. Think if you are taking a tough exam that determines something as grand as your future.  Do you quickly select the answers you think are best when you read them,  submit the test with time left on the clock? Or do you rely on your judgement to make the best use of time, read each question and possible answer and allow yourself the time to make the best decision possible? Remember this test determines your future! I'm interested to hear everyone's thoughts on this. The examples used above in your post are clearly excuses and indecision. However I do believe there are many decisions of substance you must allow yourself the maximum time possible to provide the best answer. Personally and this may be my technical/scientific background speaking. I want to allow myself the maximum amount of time to decide on important topics, without passing the point in time where the decision is made for me.

What are your thoughts?

 

AliRodriguez
AliRodriguez

Excellent post, Daniel!  Inability to act, no matter how good the reason (or excuse) leave us dis-empowered, anxious and questioning our own sanity, which sometimes, is not so sane after all.

alankay1
alankay1

Yes! Yes! Yes! And, 1) Never repeat yourself. Always make fresh exciting mistakes, 2) as Van Gogh said, 'Great things are done by a series of small things brought together'.  

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