Chronic Indecision – Who’s gambling away your team’s future?

The inability to make a decision can be among the most devastating personality traits of a manager.  No matter how sound or reasonable a course of action may seem, indecisives can’t bring themselves to commit.  As a result, they stifle their teams, kill productivity, and demoralize those team members whose energy and enthusiasm depend on continuous forward progress.

Indecisives are frustrating to work with, difficult to reassure, and nearly impossible to trust with any projects or priorities having strategic value to your team.

The reason behind chronic indecision, however, is a bit counterintuitive.  On the surface, it may seem like indecisives don’t want change or are afraid of progress.  Maybe they are perfectionists unwilling to take a chance that may wind up being flawed.  Maybe they are just careful and don’t want to cause harm.  

But, in my experience, indecisives do want progress and they do want change that is beneficial to their teams.  And, no, they are not being cautious or prudent.  

So what are they doing and why can’t they make a decision?  They have a gambling problem.  

Take the compulsive casino-goer who, for example, loses $50 playing the slot machines.  He or she cannot make the decision to stop and walk away because doing so would sacrifice the chance of hitting the jackpot on the very next pull of the lever.  Gripped by the fog of compulsive dysfunction, the gambler regards walking away as being risky, even though logic dictates the chance of continued losing is very high. 

Chronic indecision, in a leadership context, is an illness of sorts with a similar pathology.  The behavior of indecisives can mirror that of compulsive gamblers as they wager their teams’ momentum.  They see every major decision as closing the door on countless other opportunities that might – just might – be better than what the decision under consideration can produce.

Just as compulsive gambling ruins the lives of gamblers and their families, chronic indecision by leaders destroys teams and organizations.  What is often mistaken as deliberativeness might actually be careless betting on fictitious payoffs where the losses come at the expense of the team.

It is important for indecisive leaders to embrace their responsibilities.  We count on leaders to keep the machinery of our organizations functional and well-oiled.  Things need to keep moving.  Decisions need to be made.  Major decisions, in particular, are only executed with a reasonable degree of confidence and justification.  But if a decision is reasonable, then execute.  Allowing oneself to become preoccupied by other imaginary options that have no basis in reality is the antithesis of good leadership.

Chronic indecision is best solved by helping leaders understand and appreciate the importance of decision-making.  Few decisions ever really deprive leaders of the opportunity to influence the outcomes so there is no reason to feel that something valuable is being sacrificed.  The making of a decision rarely amounts to a complete loss of control.

A strong leader never gambles away the future.  So, whenever impactful decisions are based on good evidence and a reasonable degree of due diligence, allow the decision to be made without unnecessary delay. Doing so is far more valuable than the fantasy that never came to be.

John Collins is a Senior Leadership Consultant & Executive Coach at Critical Victories near Lansing, Michigan.  He is an active speaker, writer, coach, and consultant focusing on people, teams, and organizations seeking to thrive in high-pressure, high-consequence environments.  Learn more about John and Critical Victories at www.criticalvictories.com.