by David L. Whicker

How to avoid being an indecisive leader

Jun 16, 2015
CIOIT LeadershipPersonal Software

Decisions often create division that you cannot avoid, but I will submit to you that this is not an unhealthy truth. It's important to learn how to avoid some of the most common traps leaders often fall into when faced with tough decisions.

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Decisions by their very nature divide. Decision making can be an extremely challenging task for some, yet for others it appears as though they whimsically make decisions without even the slightest hesitation. Decisiveness is one of the hallmark characteristics of all great leaders. So how do you ensure that you do not fall into the indecisiveness trap?

Whether it is deciding on dinner plans with family members or finalizing a major contract for services, a decision must be made. We make decisions routinely throughout each day, some we make subconsciously, but by in large they are minor and require little effort and risk. In leadership, this is not the case as you were chosen and given specific authority to make those difficult decisions that ultimately cannot be delegated.

As a leader, you must master the ability to make the difficult decisions, ones that only you can make, sometimes even with very limited information. With this being said, let us focus our attention on some of the most common self-imposed barriers (I’ll refer to them as traps) that leaders face when making decisions. I will cover each one in brief and then wrap-up with some actions you can take to ultimately avoid the trap.

The afraid to fail trap

This trap seems to be the most common barrier leaders face when decision making is at hand. If honest with ourselves, most would admit that we struggle with even the thought of failure in large part because we allow ourselves to wrap up our identity in the failure. I believe Zig Ziglar put it best, “remember that failure is an event, not a person.” If you are unwilling to move ahead for the fear of falling down, then how will you ever know if you can pick yourself back up?

The self-confidence trap

In all seriousness, this post is not meant to serve as a therapeutic session. Yet, those who quickly dismiss this notion and boast of not wrestling with self-confidence are more than likely the least confident behind the curtain. Confidence can be defined as: the belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities. As we progress personally and professionally, we tend to become more confident in our own abilities through achievements, goal obtainment, positive feedback, and any other measure we deem a success.

The paralysis by analysis trap

Such a common phrase used, and maybe overused at that. But this is a very real scenario we often bump up against. Facts are often gathered, input is obtained from subject matter experts, the pros and cons weighed, and in spite of all the knowledge, skill, and past experience a leader has, the stars just will not align. Analytical thinking is a talent that you must possess as a leader in addition to surrounding yourself with individuals that excel in this area. Analytics has a place and when it comes to decision making, this involves a beginning and ending to the process. Thorough research methodology, testing, analysis, and sifting through tons of data to produce the key takeaways or few important points are what a leader requires to make good solid decisions. In the end though analytics can only take you so far as it is all about taking calculated risk, which oftentimes analytics alone will not be enough.

The popularity contest trap

This trap without a doubt is the most prevalent in many organizations. Those placed in positions either find themselves managing former colleagues or quite often the difficult to please team that you just cannot seem to win over. Leadership 101: You were not hired by your organization to be most popular executive of the year. You will face decisions that are unpopular, receive criticism and create disagreement among some even within your own team. As stated earlier, decisions divide and there is no way to get around this fact. Diplomacy is important as well as building relationships. You absolutely cannot please everyone as the saying goes and this constant battle will lead to constant frustration if you choose to engage.

Avoiding the trap

The guidance that follows can be used as an excellent start to avoid falling into the indecisiveness trap. Use the information below to help develop confidence and assurance in your decision making abilities.

  • Do not be afraid to fail. Failures, mistakes, bumps, bruises and scars are what you will find as the primary learning tools in any great leaders bag. Remember, that wisdom in leadership is never making decisions based upon fear. Ask yourself; what are the worst possible outcomes and/or negative impact this decision might have? Then consider the likelihood of that outcome occurring. 

    • NOTE: If you find yourself in an organization that does not allow for failures to be seen as learning opportunities and areas of growth; get out!
  • Work toward becoming self-aware, recognizing those areas of strength at which point you should focus the most time in developing. We often have a tendency to focus on our weaknesses to our own detriment. Becoming confident is not as much about reaching an end state as it is understanding how to have confidence in the moment.

  • Surround yourself with your weaknesses. Great leaders hire their weaknesses building a team of individuals that possess talents and strengths that they themselves may not be so great at. Investing in the time to recognize your own strengths and limitations requires courage, but true leadership is about capitalizing on the strengths of others for the good of the whole.

  • By following the formula below, you will find that you can make good decisions based upon calculated risk. It does not require the perfect decision to ultimately be one of success. Throughout my own career I have found that others can reach the same outcome and be successful without following the exact methodology I myself might have used.

Knowledge + Past Experience + Analysis + Input from Subject Matter Experts = Calculated Risk

Remember that decision making is a key component of leadership and in order to reach the next level you must possess this skill. Use the information here to assist you in recognizing behaviors that ultimately lead to becoming trapped so that you can avoid the traps..