Being indecisive is one of the most frustrating leadership habits. It impacts everyone you work with, and colleagues may start to lose confidence in your leadership. In this episode you’ll learn tools to become more decisive and be less of a fence sitter. So, get out of your head, into your heart and let’s talk about this annoying leadership habit.
Hey, it’s Julie and welcome to the Corporate Yogi podcast. Let’s use this episode to talk about something annoying! It’s something that I hear a lot of complaints about, and to be fair, I think it is a blind spot for most leaders when they do it. The annoying habit? Being indecisive, also known as being a fence sitter, or not having an opinion on a matter. This is perhaps one of the worst leadership traits you can have. It has all kinds of impacts that you might not have even thought of, but the biggest one is that people start to lose confidence in you and they question your competence. And once you lose credibility as a leader, you’ve lost respect and likely trust, if there ever was any to start out with. We don’t always realize this is a big deal, we’re just over here trying to do a good job and make sure we make the right decision. But I’m here to tell you there IS a cost to being indecisive and it’s a big cost.
So, here’s a look at what you’re going to learn today.
So, get out of your head, into your heart and let’s dive right in, shall we?
Let’s start with a quote from James Clear, he is the author of Atomic Habits, which is a brilliant book, I highly recommend it. “You only need to know the direction, not the destination. The direction is enough to make the next choice” I really love this quote, because I think sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves in a situation to make the right choice and we dream it up to be such a big decision with a big impact. But in truth, it doesn’t really have to be. Like the quote says, you only need to know the direction that you’re heading and you can take one step at a time, and that will get you there. And in business, we really lean into this principle with Validation as a tool to test an idea and Lean methodologies, where you create an MVP, a minimum viable product to test along the way, instead of taking a year and a half to build a piece of software and HOPE that something will buy and see value in it when we’re done. No way. We just don’t operate like that any more. Lean methodology teaches us to get a product or ideally a concept into someone’s hands as quickly as possible and let the users be the ones to tell us if we’re on track or not. There’s a humility in this type of product development and it really pays off.
So, why are leaders that can’t make decisions so darn annoying?
Well, the truth is that people are typically waiting on you to make a decision. And you might think that you are on an island with your decision, but I bet you’re not. Chances are that there are a cascade of people who are waiting on your decision to move forward with what they are doing. There’s no greater frustration than being in a holding pattern because your boss is being a bottleneck because they just can’t get off the fence. The other impact here is that your team may start to lost confidence in your ability as a leader, bc you are so indecisive or slow to make a decision. The truth is, that deep down inside we want to work for people that we not only trust and admire, but leaders that we look up to and aspire to be like someday. We are here to learn from them. And if they’re being wishy washy and sitting on a fence, it doesn’t really provide us with any inspiration or motivation, does it?
So, why do some leaders struggle to make decisions? The first and most common reason is actually at the personality level. After doing personality profiles and 360s of leaders for more than 10 years, I can tell you all about the type of people that struggle here. I tend to call it Analysis Paralysis, and there’s a couple different things mashing up here to cause Analysis Paralysis. I’m going to profile this type of leader for you so you can really understand them. First off, these leaders LOVE data, and when I say LOVE, I don’t mean they sorta kinda like data, I mean they LOVE data, they would swim in data if they could, the more data they have, the better. They love slicing and dicing it and looking at it from all kinds of different directions. Data, data and data. They tend to rely and trust data moreso than they would ever trust their gut instinct or intuition, bc the data is right there in black and white. The data gives them comfort and understanding, however taking time to analyze and review all the data does slow them down somewhat, and this is part of what prevents them from making a decision, they want to slice and dice the data just one more way, or run through the numbers just one more time. The other reason that leads to Analysis Paralysis is that this leader holds a very strong value of competence. They care about competence in themselves and also value competence in others. Bottom line – they don’t want to make a mistake…. Bc then people may not see them as competence any longer. So not only do they have all this data to sift through, but they’ve put this pressure on themselves to make the RIGHT decision and make it the first time, bc it is absolutely devastating for them to make a wrong decision. So all thse factors lead up to delayed decision making or analysis paralysis. There’s so many factors involved here, they just get stuck and have a hard time moving forward. So that describes Analysis Paralysis.
Another reason why we struggle to make decisions, is we’re scared to make the wrong decision and make a mistake. This fear can be absolutely paralyzing for people. They’re attached to being right, and can’t stand the thought of being wrong. There’s often so many negative Saboteur messages here, about “what will people think of me” “people will laugh at me” and we catastrophize what will happen if we make a mistake.
Another reason why we struggle to make a decision could be that we’re often operating in a vacuum, by ourselves and not gathering input and data from others that might be helpful. This is a common misconception about leadership, is that just bc we are in an elevated leadership role that we have to make all the decision by ourselves, we have to know all the factors and we have to carry all the risk. Absolutely not true. No matter what your leadership level is, you shouldn’t be responsible for making all the decisions. Don’t be a hero.
OK, so let’s look at some reframes, or different perspectives that may help you to make quicker decisions. First, you have to remember that most things come with an undo button, not everything, and sometimes it’s a little messy or involves some explaining. But most things can be undone if need be. This helps us to de-risk making the decision. Second, a perspective that I’ve always loved is, “as soon as you make a decision, it becomes the right one”. And I know this can be a little over the top in positivity, but there’s definitely something here, with respect to how committed we are. It’s about making a decision and then getting behind it and making it work out with forward momentum. The danger of being stuck in analysis paralysis is so much more harmful, bc when you don’t take any action, there’s so many other costs that are at play here. A third perspective, all leaders make mistakes. ALL leaders make mistakes. The objective of leading isn’t to be perfect, it isn’t to have all the answers. The objective is to gather as much data as you can and make an informed decision. And IF it does end up not working out, or ends up being a mistake, then you quickly acknowledge it and change course. As cliché as it sounds, it is true that we do actually learn more from our mistakes than we do from things going perfectly. And remember, people aren’t going to judge you for making a mistake, but they will be watching you closely to see how you handle the mistake after it is made. That is the character-defining moment, people will be watching to see how quickly you step in and step up to own it, and how resilient you are to change course and make things right. Those are the character defining moments we love about in leaders. In fact, I would go so far to say that our team actually expects us to make mistakes, bc it gives them permission to take risks and make mistakes too. It gives them permission to be flawed and to be imperfect. And trust me, your team knows how to screw up and make mistakes. BUT – do you know what they don’t likely know how to do? To recover from a mistake with grace and dignity. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen so many examples over the years of how NOT to handle a mistake, things like blaming others, going on witch-hunt to find someone else who can share some of the responsibility, throwing other people under the bus, covering things up to make it look like it wasn’t our fault. These are all very disappointing responses and these are actions that won’t command our respect. But moving fast to own, be resilient and recalibrate quickly – that perhaps could be the greatest lesson that you teach your team. And the last piece of perspective I want to leave you with is intended and unintended impact. This applies to decision making and also to many other aspects of leadership, and it goes a little something like this. I know that your intended impact is to comb through all the data and make the absolute right decision, however the unintended impact of you taking so long to make a decision is that….fill in the black here – maybe they’re losing the respect of the team, or other projects are on hold as a result of this. Basically they have a good intention, but there is also an unanticipated result of them taking so long.
OK it’s time to wrap up this episode on the annoying leadership habit of someone not making quick decisions. This is a good opportunity for you to check in, be honest with yourself and ask – do I ever struggle with this annoying habit, do I suffer from analysis paralysis? That’s a hard question to contemplate and also a really important one. And I encourage you to check in with other people that you work with, or have worked with in the past, and really dig deep to find yourself an honest answer. Just like all other leadership blind spots, wouldn’t you rather know sooner, so you could start working on it? This is also a great opportunity to use a situational blueprint with your colleagues,– hey, if you ever witness me getting into my head and struggling with analysis paralysis to make a decision, then I give you permission to call me out on this behaviour, and the best way to do that is….. either be upfront and direct, poke fun and use a little humour or pull me off to the side away from others and ask me as a question. You will likely know the best way that someone can bring this up to you without you getting defensive, so help them out and really design exactly how you want to bring this up. Also, this is a great thing to add into your relationship design, if you haven’t already. And this can be a two way agreement that you make – if either of us observes that we’re in analysis paralysis, we have full permission to name it and bring it up to the other person and this is the best way to approach it. Remember, the best way to deal with these situations is “ in advance” before you find yourself IN the situation wondering how you should handle it.
Thanks for tuning in today. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with someone who really needs to hear it. This really is one of the biggest complaints I hear people make about leaders, and so it’s really important that we get some clarity around this and make it known….. bc it seems to be a very pervasive problem.
Thanks for tuning in and I look forward to seeing you next Tuesday for another podcast episode and remember, that any fear or resistance you hold deep inside of you, is simply your greatness in disguise.