If you google leadership you will get 2.6 billion links on the subject and Amazon showed me 9000 books on Leadership. It is a vast subject on which volumes have been written. It would obviously be presumptuous of me to claim to be an authority on the subject but in working with different people for almost four decades, I have found one aspect of leadership most wanting in people and that is “decision making”. In this article I shall focus on the importance of decision making because in my opinion decision making is probably the most important facet of leadership.
When mentoring people in our organization I keep extolling the Nike tag line- “Just do it”. If a manager has been explained his scope of work and told what authority his position carries, then it is absolutely imperative that he exercise that authority to the fullest. Exercising the authority bestowed on the manager means taking decisions. I much prefer managers who make decisions beyond the scope of authority given to them than those who come up short in exercising that authority and falter in making decisions. If a manager is given a particular job then it would be fair to assume that he is capable of doing that job. Why then should he call upon his senior to make the decision? We all make mistakes; the said manager is also going to make mistakes. The fear of making mistakes should not be a reason for decision making paralysis. Managers who take decisions making their fair share of mistakes are much better than those who do not have the guts or confidence to make decisions in fear of making a mistake.
Leaders don’t have to be told to do something. They don’t waste time waiting indecisively about whether they should act. They take responsibility and take action. There are three types of people in this world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who keep wondering how it happened. Leaders make things happen. They are decisive and action oriented. They can sense what needs to be done and then they do the needful without delay. It is not that leaders are reckless or act whimsically; they experience just as much anxiety when taking difficult decisions but they have the courage to act instead of dilly dallying.
One of the reasons why people respect and accept someone as a leader is because of his/her courage. This is as much applicable in an organization as it is in a battlefield. Fancy titles do not create leaders. The best leaders I have come across have little need or fascination with titles. They just look for opportunities where they can work independently and bring a positive change.Leaders do not need hand-holding and do not need to be told what to do or how to do it. Decisions sometimes have to be taken in confusing and possibly dangerous situations without the requisite time or information but leadership means taking a decision in those situations to the best of your ability. Even if it is the wrong decision, it is better than no decision. We have all watched thriller movies where the hero is trying to diffuse a time bomb with the clock ticking away. Seconds before time out, he has to make a decision on whether to cut the green wire or the blue wire. He does not know which would be the right decision. If he dilly dallies then the bomb is going to blow up. Right or wrong, he has to make a decision. Any decision is better than no decision.
Many entrepreneurs also suffer from the fear of decision making. They settle down in running a business which they may have inherited or set up a long time ago. But every business has a life cycle and sooner or later that life cycle comes to an end. This is reflected in diminishing profits and an ever-growing competition. I refer to this as the business being commoditized. When a business is commoditized, it does not have a USP (unique selling point) which differentiates it from others in the field. It must survive only on the price factor. The company with the lowest price will be at the top of the heap. The said business has come to the end of its life cycle and the entrepreneur must now diversify. It is no longer an option; it is a practical necessity. But diversification means a big investment into the unknown and this is where so many of us falter in decision making. The consequences of things going wrong paralyses us. Unfortunately, as in the example of diffusing the bomb that I narrated above, being indecisive at this point is not an option.
A friend of mine is permanently undertaking feasibility studies.Over the last five years he has conducted numerous feasibility studies on different projects. When one feasibility study ends, another feasibility study is undertaken. It’s a never-ending process. The problem is that business opportunities do not last for ever. No one has a crystal ball. You will never know the end outcome of the business no matter how many feasibility studies are carried out. You have to take the leap of faith. In Bangladesh we do not the statistics on the survival rate of new businesses but according to Forbes magazine, in America only one third of the new ventures undertaken survive. The entrepreneur has to accept this reality and move ahead. Entrepreneurship is not for those with a feeble heart. We put a lot at stake and more often than not, we fail. We take the blow, get up and try again. Entrepreneurship is about taking risks. Failure is an integral part of entrepreneurship. Decisions have to be taken.
On a lighter note I would like to point out that the fear of decision making is not just limited to matters of high stake. Indecisive people are at their wits end even in the most mundane matters. I know someone (no points for guessing my relationship with this person) who goes out shopping for a pair of shoes and spends 3-4 hours going from shop to shop and comes home empty handed. It is not because she has financial limitations in buying a pair of shoes or a discerning taste in shoes. She just can’t make a decision.
We are human.We are not perfect and are bound to make mistakes. Making a wrong decision from time to time is inevitable. The only way we can really know whether we have made the right or wrong decision is by making the decision. If it turns out to be a poor decision then we must take responsibility for the results and take steps to do whatever damage control is possible.
Most of us rely on our rationale and intellect for decision making.We try to analyze the situation to reach the most logical conclusion. I think we give our rationale and intellect more weightage than warranted. Our brain is like a computer which when asked for a response, analyzes the situation and gives us the logical conclusion. In complex decision making there are just far too many permutations and combinations and our brain being unable to analyze all the different possibilities, freezes and causes our failure in decision making. This is why we must learn to develop and use our visceral instincts. When we do not know what to do, we should listen to what our heart tells us. If we learn to trust our heart, we soon realize that our heart does not betray us.