5 Ways I'm Learning to Be a More Decisive Leader

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Corporate Change Maker
April 14, 2024 at 8:31AM UTC

Early in my career, I worked for a leader who never seemed to be able to make a decision.  

I would send her emails to get approval for decisions and she would only respond 50% of the time.  And when she did respond, she would say to “please set up time to discuss.”  And when she didn’t respond,   I would have to track her down in between meetings in the hallway or on the stairs.  Or linger for long stretches of time outside her office.  On more than a few occasions, I “bumped” into her in the women’s bathroom.  While we were washing hands, of course.

When I would set up time with her, presenting her three options with a recommended way forward, she would ask for three more options.  Even though as an organization we would not be able to execute at least two of the three new options, she still wanted to see “how they might play out.”

She would miss deadlines.  And we would scramble for extensions.  She would send us into a downward spiral, as we kept spinning and spinning in a tornado of data.  She would ask for revised slides, revised charts, revised emails.  Revised options.  Back-up slides. More back up slides.  And then, she would revisit decisions that had finally been made, months after the fact.  

It didn’t matter how big or small. She just couldn’t seem to make a decision. 

From that year of working for her, I knew what I didn’t want to be as a leader: the bottleneck.  The reason work wasn’t moving forward.  Indecisive, incapable of making a decision, creating chaos for myself and those around me.

I am working every day to be a more decisive leader.  Some days I get it right, some days I get it wrong.   Here are five things I remind myself of when making decisions:

1. I respect timelines.

Milestones.  Deadlines.  Timelines.  There’s a reason for them.  Please don’t ignore them or think you are above them.  It’s disrespectful to the team.  Start by respecting timelines you need to honor to make key decisions and move ahead.

2. I ask: "how much data is enough?"

Please don’t send the team in a downward spiral.  How much data, information and evidence is enough?  How many more questions do you need answered before you can make an informed decision?  What is nice to know versus need to know?  Please don’t be that leader that asks for so much data everyone has forgotten what answer they were trying to solve in the first place.

3. I make the time to make the decision.  

If it’s a quick email response, I try to respond within 48 hours.  If it’s something that will require more time, I block an hour on my calendar and try to avoid interruptions.  If it requires more input and discussion, I don’t want to create email traffic.  So, 30 minutes live with key stakeholders should be enough.  Also, picking up the phone the old-fashioned way and making a call to discuss the decision works.

4. I ask: "why am I making this decision?"

Do I need to choose the menu for the event?  Do I need to pick exactly what products we are sampling and why?  Do I need to review every single piece of content that’s posted in social?  What does it say about me as a leader if I need to control all the details?  Empower your team. Empower them to make decisions.  Empower them to lead.  And have their back when they make the wrong decision.

5. I remind myself it’s okay to make the wrong decision.

There.  I said it.  I wrote it.  It’s okay to be wrong.  It’s okay to make the wrong decision.  It won’t be the first wrong decision you make or the last.

Sometimes as leaders we are so worried about making the wrong decision, we are stopped by fear.  And we decide to put off making decisions because we think it will go away, or someone else will make the decision for us.  And it lingers, it festers and it’s still waiting.  Waiting for us to make a call.  Yes or No.  Go right or left.  Up or down.  Sideways.  Or just jump right in.

We need to embrace failure more in our organizations.  Celebrate failure. As my husband often reminds me: “success has a 1,000 mothers and failure is an orphan.”  And unfortunately for me, he is generally more right than wrong.  Nobody wants to be wrong, especially not as the leader.  But how can we afford not to be wrong?  To show our teams that we make mistakes, we bounce back, that we continue to be resilient and move forward?  

And remember whatever doesn’t kill you make you stronger.  It will be okay. Thanks, Kelly Clarkson.  

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