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Making No Decision is Still Making a Decision

Geddy Lee of RushThe following is an excerpt from One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership (you can get your copy here). This post focuses on the importance of making decisions.

Enough with all the thinking already! Now you need to drive action. Ideas are great but someone has to put them in motion for them to be worthwhile, and deciding to do that is no easy task. Acting on a decision can be terrifying, especially in the case of large-scale change. Your decision may affect a significant number of people, and what if it is the wrong decision? What if things do not go as expected and the resulting outcome negatively impacts you or your organization? You could lose your job. Worse, hundreds of other people could lose theirs. It is hard enough to act on decisions when just facing your own insecurities. Throw the complexities of your organization into the mix and the angst increases exponentially. Politics, lack of resources, uncertainty, doubt, and fear all mess with our minds right when we are on the verge of taking action.

However, I am challenging you to be thought leaders. Being a thought leader requires you to be bold. Your decisions must be clear and forceful. The “thought” part of the equation only gets you halfway to your destination. As my colleague Alan Veeck says “It’s good to have thoughts, but that’s not enough.” Being a true thought leader means you not only agitate for but also lead change. Such leadership requires decisive action on your part.

You probably see it all the time—people and teams suffering from analysis paralysis. They are unable to make a decision and instead their organization languishes in the purgatory of endless Excel models. People fear making decisions. They sometimes believe, erroneously for the most part, they are better off making no decision than making an incorrect one. By not making a decision, they think they cannot be fired or disciplined for being wrong.

An old maxim of mine that addressed this issue was a RUSH lyric in their song Freewill: “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.” Inaction is still an action. It is choosing not to choose. When decisions are not made, organizations stagnate and eventually go down the tubes. That is when the really hard decisions have to be made. Layoffs, restructuring, divestitures and other painful choices await organizations that cannot make a decision and act on it.

I worked for a great boss at one point who helped me realize the negative impact of analysis paralysis. I presented a business case to him for a new idea and, based on my analysis, I estimated it was worth $1,000,000 in income over the next twelve months. He asked if I was implementing the idea immediately. I told him I was going to do some additional analysis, and then go live the following week with the change I was proposing. He said “When you come back next week with your additional analysis, the business case had better be worth another $20,000 because that’s what seven days costs at a run rate of $1,000,000. Is your analysis worth $20,000?” My answer was no. We went live that day. Inaction has a quantifiable cost.

Leaders have to make choices. Many times those choices are painful. The decisions a leader makes can affect dozens to thousands of people. Their actions determine if someone has a job, gets a raise, or moves to a new city. Leaders create businesses and close others. And in the most extreme cases their actions change the course of industry and therefore the way we live our lives. Sometimes the results of a leader’s actions are spectacular. Other times the results are spectacular disasters. Nonetheless, leaders must make decisions and act.

Having a maxim focused on forcing action is powerful. It will move you from analysis to activity. It will help you be decisive. It should reduce your fear and uncertainty and serve as a clear reminder of how to act during uncertain times. My decision making maxim came from the lips of one of the greatest military leaders in history:

“In case of doubt, attack!” – General George S. Patton III

Besides the fact that I like the quote, the maxim elicits strong emotions for me. When I was in the army I was a tank platoon leader. My first job consisted of the tactical deployment of four M1A1 main battle tanks manned by fifteen dedicated soldiers. I studied General Patton a great deal during both my time at West Point and during my initial armor training as a lieutenant. He was effectively the patron saint of armor. I internalized the notion that the worst action you can take on the battlefield is to take no action at all.

How do you drive yourself to make decisions? What are your reminders to take the risk and move your organization forward? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

– If you want to improve the decision making skills in your organization, check out our Deliberate Decision Making training course.  We can help you get “unstuck” and make the decisions that drive impact.

– If you’re serious about strengthening your decision making skills, grab yourself a copy of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. There are plenty of suggestions in there for how you can get off the dime and move things forward. CLICK HERE to get your copy.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

9 Responses to “Making No Decision is Still Making a Decision”

  1. Joe Astolfi says:

    Hi Mike,
    Love the Rush reference. I keep this line in my mind at all times as well to remind myself to make a decision and put it into action. Keep up the insightful blogs!
    Joe

    • Mike Figliuolo says:

      Thanks Joe. Glad you enjoyed the post and the quote – it’s one of my favorites. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  2. Particularly like the $20K question – sometimes we need that level of reality to help our ‘choice’ sink in.

    Inaction as a conscious choice is where so many of our organisations hide today.

    Martin

    • Denise says:

      Mike,

      Thanks for reminding me to look at my decision maxim to make the tough decisions awaiting me 🙂 I needed this BLOG thought today!

    • Devin Leshin says:

      Agreed. The $20K question really resonated for me and it is a great double check on yourself (or others).

      It is one thing to do due diligence before coming to a conclusion. It is another thing to spin your wheels rechecking that conclusion.

      I’ve always followed the maxim “always stay moving”. Moving will always work out in the end. It’s when you stop for a second that kills you or your project or your company. When I explain this to others, I refer to exercising. While you’re exercising, chances are you don’t feel as tired and you keep going. The moment you stop, that is when the soreness, tiredness, and wanting to sit and do nothing kicks in. Same with business decisions. I’d rather move and make a wrong move, adjust and keep going than stop and not get moving again.

  3. Paul Brooks says:

    Great article and great advice. Most leaders and their organizations do not have any shortage of good ideas or even good plans…the hard part is implementation. Taking action! The down side of taking action is having discipline to FOCUS action, not try to act on everything but on those things that move the most important things forward. Thanks again for the information.

    Paul

  4. Mark Tobin says:

    Nice post Mike. As a former golf teaching pro and now executive coach, paralysis by analysis applies to both!

  5. All I can say is WOW! We used to preach this to our clients ALL the time. We have another acronym we use called K.I.S.S. Keep it simple stupid. Yeah it works!
    I find that most businesses are afraid to take that next step or they try to put to much though into it. Putting too much thought into it usually is counter productive (which is why KISS comes into play). As they say Complacency kills and the same goes for businesses.
    (Oh love Rush to BTW). 🙂 Great article!!

  6. […] with a tough choice? Just pick something. Delaying has costs, […]

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