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Indecision: Consternation or Constipation

by Todd Williams

“People say I am indecisive, but I am not so sure about that.” I have seen this quote attributed to a former US President, but I doubt he actually said this. First, it is too humorous a comment for him and, second, he is far from indecisive. The liberal pundits trying to attribute that quote to him confuse indecision with defective decision making. You can figure out who the President is on your own; however, it is irrelevant. This  is about leadership not politics. Organizations confronted with a decision-challenged individual in a leadership role, is adrift in the sea of serendipity. They bobble around having no direction.

The Problem With Indecision

Indecision is worse than a bad decision. With direction, even poor direction, the individuals affected can properly plan the decision’s execution, understand its risk, develop mitigation strategy, and define contingencies when it starts to falter. Rivals to the direction do the same, obviously, in an opposing manner. The result is a set of critical plans covering nearly all aspects of the decision—regardless of the decision’s quality. Indecision denies the framework for proper planning. It leaves everyone unprepared and to suffer the consequences of fate, removing their ability to make the decision fit the stakeholder’s requirements.

Fear of the Poor Decision

The source of paralyzed pronouncements is the fear of it being labeled a poor decision. Affected individuals, with the best of intentions, hide this fright behind two general behavioral traits—ignorance and over analysis.

With blissful ignorance, also known as unrealistically optimism, the hope is that everything will work out based on the misguided belief that there really are no problems. In this situation, the realist is considered negative. Labeled a pessimist and disruptive to the team, he or she is usually banished from the organization. In the end, this is the best outcome for the realist. Otherwise, they are condemned to eternal frustration and, if their prognostications become reality, they are saddled with the blame for their “self-fulfilling prophecy.” No one wins.

The opposing trait is deferring the decision in anticipation that new specks of data will create an irrefutable edict. Analyze, collect data, analyze more, and search for more data. The typical scenario brings in consultant after consultant to assess the problem and leaders wait for the answer they want to hear. Meanwhile, time ticks away and fate takes its toll.

Good Decisions Do Not Preclude Change

Poor leaders do not make bad decisions; poor leaders refuse to admit there are weaknesses in every decision thereby inhibiting the flaws being corrected. By acknowledging that a decision has faults, leaders create an environment that fosters critical thinking. This is an environment that reinforces every aspect of success: critical thinking prior to the decision, wide spread support of the decision, and development of mitigation plans when weaknesses are found.  Most importantly, when (not if) flaws surface, it provides the platform for non-accusatory change. The result is that lessons are learned in an atmosphere devoid of blame. Everyone wins.

Affecting Change

Understanding the reasons for the indecision is fundamental in affecting change. Pushing the eternal optimist to accept reality or convincing the consternated analyst that the data is conclusive, is fruitless. You must define an alternate route. The only avenue to address the issue is your ability to objectively lead.

It takes a leader to make effective decisions. The person’s position or rank is irrelevant. The leader is identified, in part, by their ability to make and be accountable for decisions, to assemble a team to assist in the definition, execution, and continued critical evaluation of the decision.

Accountability, though, is the most critical trait. It earns trust from the team and the stakeholders. It is contagious. Peers and subordinates will step up and model the behavior. In short, accountability subverts a superior’s indecision. It imbues leadership below the consternation and drives the organization forward.

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