–And you’re holding the murder weapon.

Leaders need to engage periodically in some serious introspection and decide whether or not their decision-making style or the culture they’ve created is mortally wounding organizational performance.

I learned that lesson as a by-product of a traumatic experience over three decades ago.  Early in my flying career, in close proximity to another airplane also traveling at 400+ mph, I heard a magical phrase from my instructor that’s stuck with me ever since:  indecision kills.

First, though, he said, “I have the stick.”

That meant he was going be in control of the airplane for a few minutes while giving me instruction and advice, and in this case, saving my life.  It was clear to him (but not to me) that if I didn’t hurry and decide which course correction to make, my indecision would result in a catastrophic mid-air collision.

While not normally fatal in the corporate world, leadership and management indecision still kills.  Among other things, it kills employee morale and motivation, productivity and project momentum, and causes our customers to lose confidence that we can be responsive to their needs.

Indecisiveness is caused by a number of factors, primarily fear of failure.  Much has been written about decision-making processes and steps that those who have trouble being decisive can take.  But I’ve yet to find a magic pill that managers can take that makes them less hesitant to make a “good enough” decision in an environment where imperfect decisions are frowned upon.

I have the stick for a minute.

Several years ago, our director called his senior managers together and boldly announced, “We take too long to make decisions.  We’re going to start making decisions faster so we can make more decisions, and if we make a bad decision, at least we’ll have time to make a better one.”  Heresy in a bureaucratic institution with an entrenched, hierarchical decision making process.  But he was a leader, and we did start making better decisions without getting bogged down in staff morass.

I’m not suggesting all decisions need to be made quickly and neither was he.  What I am suggesting is that leaders need to continually evaluate the effect their decision-making style is having on the organization, and the decision-making culture they’ve created for their managers.  When leaders create an environment where employees feel empowered and decision-making has been appropriately delegated, managers are more willing to make timely, good decisions without waiting for perfect information.

And that reduces the mortality rate for employee morale, keeps promising projects from getting bogged down, and increases customer responsiveness.

Leadership is an activity, not a position.  That activity includes making sure you foster an environment where the decision-making process doesn’t paralyze the organization and mistakes aren’t always professionally fatal.

Back to you, leaders…

You have the stick.

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