The Unbearable Risk Of Indecisiveness

There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.

If you know me, you know I’m a man of action. I can’t stand sitting around… doing nothing… or watch others do nothing. And I have a hard time — as a consultant — watch a Task Force take 9 years to make a decision they should have made in 2 weeks.

You see… there’s a little known secret when it comes to leadership… a secret that has been paying off for great leaders throughout history. And the secret is simply this — that it’s usually more important to be decisive than it is to be right.

Let me explain. When you’re decisive, even though you may not be 100% correct, three sources of power come to you.

** YOUR DECISIVENESS inspires support.

Face it. Most people are not leaders. Most people are more than happy to follow someone who looks like he/she knows the way.

The Reverend Billy Graham tells of a time early in his career when he arrived in a small town to preach a sermon. Wanting to mail a letter, he asked a young boy where the post office was. When the boy had told him, Dr. Graham thanked him and said, “If you’ll come to the Baptist Church this evening, you can hear me telling everyone how to get to heaven.”

“I don’t think I’ll be there,” the boy said. “You don’t even know your way to the post office.”

In a funny kind of way, the boy was right. People want to follow people who seem to know where they’re going.


When you come down quickly and confidently on one side of an issue, it takes your potential opponents off guard. They pause. They wonder if you know something they don’t know. And as a result, they often look elsewhere. They look for a different battle to fight.

So take a look at yourself. Do you sound decisive? Or are you guilty of mushy language like, “Well, maybe… Perhaps… I’ll think about it… or… It all depends?”

To be an effective leader, you’ve got to be self-assured, confident, and decisive without being arrogant, harsh or closed-minded. When you achieve that balance, you rally enthusiastic support and limit frivolous resistance.

** A MEDIOCRE decision made quickly… can achieve better results than a good decision made slowly.

That may sound strange, but it’s true. If you make a decision and move in that direction, you immediately get a new perspective. And that new perspective often makes the “right” decision or the “best” decision all the more obvious.

By contrast, if you’re stuck in analysis paralysis, if you simply can’t make a decision, if you wait too long, you’re often forced to do too little too late. Fear has gotten the best of you. And the best opportunities have probably passed you by.

So what can you do about that fear… if you have it? I’ve found four ways you can overcome the fear of decisiveness.

=> 1. Make sure you understand the meaning of decisiveness.

It’s not the same thing as being rash. It doesn’t mean that you make an instant, uninformed decision. That would be silly. And if that’s what you think decisiveness is, no wonder you’re fearful.

When you’re decisive, you make a decision. You take a stand. You follow a process that gives you the best decision in a timely manner. And I’ll outline that process in next week’s “Tuesday Tip”.

=> 2. Accept the fear of rejection as normal.

If you’re like most people, you want to be loved and accepted. Yet, in a leadership role, there will be many times when you must make difficult decisions that others will criticize. So be it. That’s life.

Clergyman William J. H. Boetcker said it very well. He said, “It is better to displease the people by doing what you know is right, than to temporarily please them by doing what you know is wrong.”

=> 3. Decide and act despite your fear.

Some people are struck numb by their fear of making the wrong decision or of making any decision whatsoever. They erroneously conclude that if they’re fearful, they can’t do anything.

Baloney. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Make a decision.

As Greg Romaneck, the coordinator of Prairie School in De Kalb, Illinois, says, “As a leader, if you choose not to make difficult decisions, you will face even sterner criticism from people who legitimately question your leadership credentials.”

=> 4. Be wary of verbalizing your fears.

Getting good counsel from wise and trusted friends and colleagues is one thing. But talking to too many people about your fears is another thing. It could backfire.

If you keep on talking about your fear of making the wrong decision, you will lose the support of others. And if you talk about your fear of certain people in the workplace, it could get back to them in a way you wouldn’t like.

Besides that, the more you talk about your fear, the more life you give it. Instead, tell yourself that you have the knowledge, wisdom, and confidence to make good decisions. And the more you affirm those kinds of things, the more you’ll be that way.

If you’re going to be an effective leader, you must be decisive. In fact, about 2000 years ago, in the Book of James, we are told, “A doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. People like that should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. They can’t make up their minds. They waver back and forth in everything they do.”

Action:  On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very indecisive and 10 being very decisive, what number would you give yourself? What’s one thing you could do to bump up your score by one point?