How to Think Like a Decisive Leader

Which road to takeYour reputation as a leader is intimately linked with your decision-making ability. Yet, in our often fast-paced and volatile world, making good decisions has become more complex and harder than ever. Whereas in the past, good decision makers were expected to draw upon their vast experience to deliver a sound course of action, it is now often impossible to ask the same of a modern leader. The world moves too fast and leaders can’t possibly have all the answers. So how then could we make a “good decision” given this phenomena? Well, the most important part of modern decision-making is speed. Rapidly making sense out of the vast amounts of data that we are now privy to in modern society is a valuable skill that all leaders should work to hone. Still, the most important aspect of this sense-making ability is translating it into relevant action, and this only happens through making swift and calculated decisions.

Why does being a decisive leader inspire others and deliver better results? Because individuals and organizations learn from making decisions, even bad ones. By being decisive, leaders allow themselves to get clear, immediate feedback from their actions. As a result, they are able to learn, and then change course if necessary to achieve the results they are seeking. Contrast this with the indecisive competitors, who while congratulating themselves for not making any bad decisions, are likely still mired in analysis and have not taken any action that enabled valuable feedback. The saying goes that “speed kills,” yet, its intention is to remind one to slow down. I say “speed kills,” so speed up your decision-making and start “killing” your competition!

Google is a company that embraces this philosophy masterfully with its cultural philosophy of “design and iterate.” As one of the world’s greatest learning organizations, they are not afraid to make decisions that will expose areas for improvement. They consistently are first to market with fresh, yet, imperfect products, because they know that consumer feedback enables the best re-design possible in the shortest amount of time. So why don’t more companies and/or leaders embrace decisiveness in their operational decision-making?

Through my consulting work, I’ve noticed a few consistent patterns with leaders that hold them back from embracing a decisive mindset. These are strong, innate tendencies that all humans seem to share at some level, and they are all grounded in fear. I’ve come to call these the “Four Desires that Degrade Decisiveness.”

1. A desire to be correct – Who likes to be wrong? No one I know. When we make bad decisions, it negatively impacts our ego and self-esteem as we feel incompetent or inadequate. This is a really lousy feeling and a strong motivator to avoid making decisions until we are certain they are correct. Yet, we all know that completely avoiding mistakes is simply unavoidable. The best leaders embrace their vulnerability, and choose purposeful action over protecting their ego.

2. A desire to please everyone – When we make decisions that impact others, we want everyone to get on board with them. Yet, the best leaders know this may never happen as disappointing others is simply part of leadership. Leaders avoid wasting time on lobbying for 100% agreement and instead work to maintain trust with opponents. At some point a leader must say, “I have to make a decision here and we are going with this. I appreciate your input and now I need your support. If we need to adjust as we go, I assure you I will make that call accordingly.”

3. A desire to procrastinate – Why do we all procrastinate? It feels good! That’s right! Making a decision is hard and there are often losses in doing so. Having our options open feels good. Thinking our boss will have that answer we need tomorrow takes us off the hook, and that feels good. Yet, delaying decisions is just delaying outcomes and learning. Leaders seek not to be comfortable, but to drive results.

4. A desire to hide – Sometimes decisions have real consequences. Perhaps jobs are on the line, or maybe significant financial risks are at stake. The pressures of making these decisions can cause one to want to hide from responsibility. However, do not let a fear of responsibility impact your ability to be decisive – the most successful decisions happen because individuals had the courage to make them to begin with. One of the most powerful ways to show leadership is to demonstrate courageous decisiveness when others are unwilling to step up to the challenge.

Improving your own decisiveness begins with an honest assessment on which desires show up for you as a leader. Take a moment to self-asses your decision-making tendencies and reflect on what tangible actions will best serve your personal growth needs.

This post is a sample chapter from my new eBook “ACTIONABLE! Leadership: Develop Your Inspirational Ability, Motivate Teams, & Achieve Extraordinary Results.”  Claim your free copy by following the below link and start taking action towards meeting your full leadership potential.

Free ACTIONABLE! Leadership eBook