Leadership and Decision Making

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.

Comments (17)
  • A Timely Decision is wiser than a Delayed Witty Decision. A good leader is he, who decides at the earliest appreciating the available options with the cons and pros of each option and delivers the executive order at the appropriate time and place.
    A well structured article for the junior and mid level leaders to built courage in Making Decisions.

    • To make a perfect decision what is required most? A powerful brain 🧠 or the courage?
      I think clear guidance of an organisation & sincerety of the staffs of that company to take every observation positively can create leaders to born new level of thinking to make more and more effective decisions.

      I am very lucky to have the opportunity to connect with this blog.

  • Decision making is an art of proceeding ahead whether wrong or right it keeps the decision maker busy challenging his attitude towards cheiving the targeted goal. It produces ultimately confidence to look forward in achieving set goals. So, decision making process has to be a continuous process for achieving the goal.

  • There is a thing called FATE. I do not tend to believe in fate, but, like they say, ..it happens.
    However saying that does not diminish the fact that decision making should be made considering existing factors and assuming future reactions.
    Well written once again!

    • Very useful writeup. Some points absolutely practical oriented.
      Thanks for your thoughtful articl.

  • Excellent,Though already we have found you the leader of the real estate sector in Bangladesh, now we are getting the guide line what is to be done. Thanks a lot for the article.

  • we have seen arrogance of two powerful leaders to handle the pandemic: Trum and Borris. Leaders who defy science and take deciscion based on their own analysis and perception face failure. It seems gender has a role to play. Mackrell, Jarcinda and Sturgron did well to handle the crisis compared to others. There are some problem called wicked problem like Tsunami, 9/11 and pandemic. These are out of proportion of human thinking process and left for collective leadership. Leaders are born but that’s not enough. They must go through education and real world experience to handle psyche of human bring. They can be visionary but that’s not enough. In this infirmation age twitter leaders are emerging. They are of different type. May not be driven by values or morality but selfish interest and transient gain. We are seeing a different trait in future leaders away from usual religious and liberating leaders. Organization are more focused on balance sheet leaders and new political leaders are looking for flaws in people mind be it religious or cultural or nationalistic and are exploring them in full. But they are stuck with the idea that they can be in power for ever. Putin and Chi is an example and there are examples in Middle income and low income countries. The enormous power given to them made them wicked leaders and allos them to defy any world order. Many define yourself as leader through mastani and wealth or leader by inheritance like in sub-contonent and block all natural leadership. Where is the authenticity in it when you can not challenge them?

    • Dear sir
      I use to read your writings from your linked in profile and learn so many professional aspects to develop myself professionally as well as personally. We are proud of you sir you are not only doing business but also develop us from your practical experience.
      With kind regards
      ASM Shakhawat Hossain

  • Thank you for the blog. Agree with your sage opinion. Perhaps the bti Ltd has been sustaining for such a long time because of a person of your status being at the helm of decision making having the wisdom to adjust with the requirements of the time. kudos and regards.

  • Thank you for sharing thoughts on topic like these. These are helpful to people around who are open to learn. Please keep posted similar topics/thoughts/take out.
    No doubt that you use your soul, heart and head together while taking a decision.And act accordingly. And Fast. You need to be flexible while practicing decision making process.
    At the same time it is important to allow others to use their abilities and appreciate if someone comes up with innovative decision even if that fails, thus we can create leaders in our corporate world.
    Sir. appreciate if you please share your reading materials during this COVID or may be your all time favorites or suggestive materials/pieces through your routine word plays and writing skills.
    Now I am reading, just to share : You and some others may find some interest.
    A new earth : Awakening to your life purpose : Eckhart Tolle
    The sealed nectar : Ar Raheeq Al Makhlum
    Born a Crime : Trevor Noah
    Atomic Habits ; Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results: James Clear
    Thank you again.

  • Ability to take decision is one of the most important leadership traits. I do agree with the points, decision has to be made. But it ought to be based with compelling reasoning (i.e., would be a call of the day). In many times, with your mind ( breaking down into heads i.e.,logical; hearts i.e., emotional and lastly guts i.e., pelvic areas and lower abdomen. After all, leaders can predict future better than others with their wisdom and will.

  • Couldn’t not but quote that the article is the mantra for those who want to build their career as leaders. Not only for the managers but also for the entrepreneurs those want to take new challenges.
    Actually taking decisions in right time without any delay turns situations under control. It’s true we are human beings and we are allowed for making mistakes though. But in every situation we have to take decisions. Whether even it is in dangerous risk. (Cutting the wire blue/red, any time the bomb may blow whether that person cut any one those) but that person will have to cut any of those and come out with success.
    Irrespective of the designation/title the smart managers are those who have the guts to take decisions instantly.
    Browsing in the shop for three/four hours for purchasing a pair of shoes but returning home in empty hand is totally unfortunate and hopeless.
    In the other sense, it makes managers that skilled to take decisions instantly with the overall management systems, company’s policies, regulations and overall the practices of the company norms. Then a manager gets the right track to prepare him in same alignment and he will be rewarded and encouraged.
    Though there might have some risk of taking wrong decision but eventually the guts of takings decisions immediately is appreciable and smartness that the management appreciates and count as a positive instinct.

  • Another well written article, Arshi. Congratulations !
    Yes, absolutely, one should never be afraid of jumping in and taking the decision, as well as live with the consequences. I feel, a leader needs to be somewhat of a visionary as well. They need to measure the consequences of their decisions and what impact the decisions will impart, say five years down the line. Important also, the decision needs to be fair and just. Any action today, will possibly have a ripple effect and gather momentum in the coming years. A leader needs to weigh that and just take the decision. If s/he’s wrong then they will need the courage to admit and take remedial measures. But, as you rightly said, they will never know unless they take the decision.
    I agree with you, that one of the most important traits a leader must have is to be able to master the art of decision making.
    Carry on Dosto, wish you all the best.

  • It’s a good content, which given to learn us how we make a proper and good decision, Today taken our corporate decision making is more challenging to us, So we use our caliber to making good and ontime decision,
    Thank u sir,
    Amber Group,
    Ex. bti central accounts.

  • Very good article. We can learn about leadership & decision making from this post.
    I think if authority provides freedom to the Manager, it is easy to take a decision rightly for Manager.A good decision maker is an efficient Manager. It is also very important that good management builds up a platform for practicing manager himself as a good and efficient leader. Thanks Sir.

  • A Very good article on leadership and decision making.

  • Leadership is, perhaps, the most talked about subject and a published topic all over the world. As I see, leadership role in Decision Making (DM) is performed not only at the strategic level or at high stake issues in the government or in any organization it is rather applicable equally in everyday dealings at every tier of a profession even in domestic affairs.

    The test of a leader is embedded in the DM at the appropriate time with courage and boldness. Indecisiveness, fear of unexpected and safe playing does not go with a true leadership. History of warfare is replete with examples of victory and defeat due to timely decision, delay in decision or no decision. General William Slim, the 14th Army Commander of the Allied Forces in the Eastern Theater (Burma Front, fighting with the Japanese in WWII, 1939-1945) took the decision of discarding the vehicles from the fighting troops in the rugged hills helped turning the inevitable defeat into victory (Slims Memoire). The declaration of independence by the father of the nation at the historic Race Course Address on 07 Mar 1971 is a great and glaring example of a bold and timely decision by a leader.

    Author’s perception and performance of leadership role and DM is iconic in the corporate world. The write-up is enriched with real life examples of DM, indecision, fear in DM or delaying decision described very clearly and the direction to earn the ability to make decisions. Voicing with the author I see there is no coaching or exercise that can really teach one to make correct decisions. It is rather making timely decisions right or wrong that helps making correct decision. The article is an authentic document to be taught at the schools, colleges and universities and to be followed earnestly by the professionals in the business world to derive the benefits of timely decisions.

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