Our conversation over coffee turned to leadership succession, a challenge that faces every leader and every organization. We talked about transitions we’d watched where there was great success and others that had “crashed and burned.” A common thread in successes and failures was decision making. As we unpacked the stories of successes, they were all marked by an inclusive decision-making process. The failures were filled with forced decisions, which were often independent decisions. It made me reflect on decision making and how critical it is for leaders to do it well.

Leaders can’t avoid making decisions, it’s part of their job. But why do some leaders, especially when they are new to a role or new to an organization, feel the need to make decisions too quickly, try to force the timing? Why do some make decisions unilaterally, with minimal or no input from others?

I don’t think it’s intentional. I’m confident leaders don’t wake up and say, “Let me see how many decisions I can force today.” If you asked for their wisdom on decision making, most will tell you it’s important to get the input of those impacted before a decision is made, followed by the significance of patience and timing. Unfortunately, leaders who know better, who know what to do, don’t do it.

Here are a few reasons decisions get forced. How many have experienced or witnessed.

  • Pressure (personal) – Some of the greatest pressure we experience is what we put on ourselves. It’s natural to want to “prove your worth” to others in the organization, which can lead to impatience. Instead of finding the low hanging fruit and small victories available, new leaders sometimes push to “hit a home run” as soon as possible. They become like the free agent baseball player who presses, trying to force success, to prove they are worth the millions invested in them. It doesn’t work.
  • Pressure (organizational)– Organizations do pressure leaders for results, e.g., being told your division that isn’t turning a profit must do so in a short period of time, to roll out a new IT system in a short period of time, etc. This causes leaders to have job insecurity, which makes them want assurance key decisions are ones they agree with. How do you do that? Be the one who makes the decisions.
  • “I know what’s best” – Seasoned leaders often believe they know best. Why? Because they’ve solved problems throughout their career, making them good at assessing issues and finding solutions. They don’t feel they need to listen to others; they want to just solve it and move on. Some might listen to others, but not how you or I want them to listen. It’s impatient listening, a courtesy, before making the decision they want to make.
  • “I don’t have time” – Leaders have full calendars, with never enough time. The pressure of busyness causes two problems.
    1. A quick decision – just to get it done. Quick decisions usually are made without the input needed from others.
    2. Avoidance – Yes, busy leaders avoid decisions (which is still a decision), causing everything to grind to a halt, or push others to make decisions they shouldn’t be making just to move things forward.

Both can have huge negative impacts on your organization.

Great decision making is about taking time to learn and prepare and about timing. Forced decisions are rarely successful.

We would all be wise to remember something my wife reminds me of from time to time, the importance of God in decision making and timing.

When it is not in God’s time, you cannot force it. When it is in God’s time, you cannot stop it.



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