Do these five things to be “effectively decisive”

Do you want to really frustrate me? Take a looooong time to make a decision. I’m not alone apparently, as most every employee survey I’ve participated in the last fifteen years has some variation of “slow decision making” listed as a top annoyance. Leaders who can make decisions quickly have outsized impact, and frankly, more of my respect. Decisiveness is one of my favorite leadership attributes!

But it’s not just about making decisions fast. I could decide quickly to bet my house on a hand of poker, kill a promising IT project, or rage-quit a good job. Recklessness isn’t the goal. It’s not just decisiveness we’re after, but effective decisiveness. Good choices.

In thinking about this, I came up with five things you need to exhibit such decisiveness. In my experience, if you have these, you can make decisions quickly and unblock the people who depend on you.

You need information. It’s hard to make decisions without information! The mistake we often make is waiting for all the info. You’ll never have it. You’re always working with incomplete information. Can you always have a good baseline of info? The most decisive leaders I know (and what I try to be) are always listening and learning. They pay constant attention to a wide array of things. When decisions need to be made, they don’t have to start from zero.

You need courage. There’s a riskiness to making decisions. Ideally, you feel “safe” making the decision because those around you will support you regardless of how it turns out. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes you have to make unpopular decisions. Or those without the support of the leaders above you. Decisiveness requires courage to make hard choices.

You need recognition of the type of decision you face. Are you facing a “type 1” decision that’s irreversible, or a “type 2” decision that’s reversible? Picking a restaurant for dinner tonight? Type 2. Don’t stress it and just make a choice. If the restaurant turns out to be closed, you can pick something else. Selling your home? Be a tad more thoughtful. You can make quick decisions with both, but label the type of decision you’re facing, and analyze accordingly.

You need authority. It doesn’t matter if you’re decisive in areas that you have no control. You’ve made a firm decision to become the President of the United States? Congrats. Your decision doesn’t make it so. Whether you’re making decisions for yourself or on behalf of a team, recognize where you have authority to execute.

You need urgency. None of these other things matter if you don’t feel a sense to act quickly. You can have authority, information, courage, and awareness of the decision type. But if you don’t have urgency, you may still drag out a decision for an extended period of time. The best leaders recognize the impact their decision-making pace has on others. They prioritize it. Tomorrow will have its own problems. Don’t procrastinate. Make a call today, and move onto the next thing.

Maybe all of these are wrong, but I’ve found myself embracing a more decisive leadership style so that I never slow down my team unnecessarily.

Author: Richard Seroter

Richard Seroter is Director of Developer Relations and Outbound Product Management at Google Cloud. He’s also an instructor at Pluralsight, a frequent public speaker, the author of multiple books on software design and development, and a former editor plus former 12-time Microsoft MVP for cloud. As Director of Developer Relations and Outbound Product Management, Richard leads an organization of Google Cloud developer advocates, engineers, platform builders, and outbound product managers that help customers find success in their cloud journey. Richard maintains a regularly updated blog on topics of architecture and solution design and can be found on Twitter as @rseroter.

7 thoughts

  1. Usually the people I have to deal with fall into two broad categories: 1) people who burn up all the project time making decisions, leaving the rest of us to scramble to get things done and 2) people who quickly make decisions without giving them enough thought and then have to back-peddle after it is going to be painful for everybody else.

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