It is curious that one of the most important attributes of a leader's activity, that of decision making, can be the most taxing.
I recall a member of my Vistage CEO peer group telling me that his colleague, the Technical Director, was unable to make a decision, which he found irksome to say the least.
He put this inability down to the fact that the director was an engineer and needed to collect all the relevant (and sometimes irrelevant) evidence to substantiate the decision making process.
It wasn't that he was risk averse, or was just that he needed to be absolutely certain that every possible piece of justification had been covered.
The upshot was that he finished up with vast amounts of data, very little information and no intelligence on which he could make a decision.
As a consequence he either went on and on collecting data or just gave up and went negative.
The leader's frustration was understandable; being the owner as well as the leader he wanted decisive people around him who didn't need constant reassurance that the data collecting process was essential to "get it right".
This inability to come to a decision can have several a raft of reasons and sometimes a mixture of all of them.
It must be said that certain functions in a business can lead to this irritating result of indecision; the numerical functions like technical and financial often lead the way whereas sales people can go overboard in the opposite direction.
It's the "ready, fire, aim" syndrome.
If one of the team is inherently risk averse then by definition they are more than likely to be indecisive and hence their value has to be questioned. That form of indecision almost always leads to upward delegation and that has to be resisted at all costs.
Beware of the indecisive one who won't make a decision in case, heaven forfend, failure could prejudice both is/her position and the job itself.
Fear of failure is a very powerful emotion and it takes a combination of personal strength and sensitive leadership to overcome it or at least get it into perspective.
That perceived downward spiral following possible failure leading to the only realistic solution of jumping off Beachy Head is all too real for some people. As I said a dose of reality and getting it into perspective is necessary in these cases.
And what about he leader or executive who shoots from the hip, who is reactive and ready to make a decision often without any evidence to back it up?
More dangerous I would submit than indecision when at least some assessment of the possible risk would be valuable.
It can be a dangerous but exciting roller coaster ride with the outcome in doubt all along the line.
Another issue is decision making by committee. I remember talking to the Managing Partner of a law firm with 30 partners about how they came to a decision.
I rather naively suggested that he would seek consensus at which he exploded.
"Consensus? Some hope! They must have unanimity so that everyone agrees"
Again naively I asked him his they came to a decision on anything.
"We don't,” he said and that was the end of that conversation.
Smooth decision making is the lifeblood of any successful business or organisation for that matter.
There will always be a modicum if risk involved; the art is to assess that risk, decide whether it can be reduced and if not to make a conscious decision to go ahead or abort.
The key is to do it, one way or the other; vacillation does no good to anyone and only spreads uncertainty through the business.
Remember that it’s always JFDI time!
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