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Afraid to Decide

When was the last time you waffled on making a decision and, by default or design, let someone else make it for you?  Maybe last night?  (“What restaurant do you want to go to,” she asked? “I don’t care, he replied. “Wherever you want to go.” “I don’t care either,” she responded. “You decide.”)

Decisions are risky, especially in organizations where consensus overshadows individual accountability.

Consider these three scenarios where decisions can get deflected to others without much notice or guilt.

  • You’ve thoroughly prepared a presentation to your boss, laying out the options for her decision on some new corporate initiative. But what if she asks which option you want? You would probably repeat the merits of each option and then timidly show slight favoritism towards one. My advice: If you want your boss’ job someday, make the decisions now that you’re upward-delegating to her.
  • Tomorrow you must explain to your staff how an unpopular corporate reorganization will change the department. You bring in your top direct reports and ask them, “If you were me, what would you do and say?” Sounds participatory, but are you really hoping that one of them will give you the decision you should be making?
  • You must decide about moving forward with an innovative program for employees. You want department heads to give you their perspectives and buy-in. You decide to form a committee, although you know that committees are notoriously poor at making decisions and taking risks.

Here are some examples of don’ts and do’s.

    Don’t say this: You start a bad-news meeting by saying, “Tom, Kaitlyn, and I had a long session yesterday about an important issue and here’s what we came up with.”
    Say this: “Several of us got together yesterday to explore how to address some tough new challenges. Let me tell you about those challenges and what I have decided we need to do about them.” That’s flexibility backed by resolve.
    Don’t say this: You are put in charge of a committee and begin by asking, “What does each of you think our purpose is for this committee?”
    Say this: “The purpose of this group is to provide data-supported solutions to a specific issue, offer perspectives from each member’s expertise, and recommend clear-cut recommendations for decision-makers.” That’s decisiveness.

One more tip. On your to-do list, insert “Decide” as the first word for each task. If you can’t, insert “Drop.” That may be your best decision.

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