January 8, 2021
How to Become a Decisive Leader
Have you ever purchased a car? Doing so is an excellent example of a difficult decision.
Things to consider:
In other words, buying a car is a tough decision. If you consider all the factors, it becomes incredibly complex and hard to choose one car over another. My solution is to call my brother-in-law; he loves to read consumer reports. He asks me what I want in a car, and then he provides the top three choices. This process helps but making the final choice is still a stressful experience.
When making a difficult decision, you have a great deal of what Leon Festinger called cognitive dissonance. In the beginning, we open our minds to lots of different alternatives, all of which look good in some ways and bad in others. Struggling with several various options creates dissonance because many of the choices are mutually exclusive. Most of us hate cognitive dissonance. As a result, we tend to rationalize our choice, defend our decision, and then find reasons to denigrate alternatives. The most common problem, due to this justification process, is that it may take you a long time to recognize that you made a poor decision. It happens in all aspects of life: at home, at work, raising kids, or even buying cars. Once you decide, you find yourself defending the decision and it’s difficult to accept the fact that this may have been a wrong decision.
In the workplace, decisions can be a building block of a successful career, or they can be the reason for failure. Some people try to escape the possibility of failure by avoiding making difficult decisions, but that is not helpful either. My colleague Jack Zenger and I found that having the ability to make a good decision and be decisive is a critical element of leadership success.
Despite the endless amount of data we can access today, there will never be enough to ensure a decision is correct. Waiting for more data causes people to miss getting ahead of the competition. Sometimes good choices this year become bad choices next year. Learning how to be decisive is an essential skill that will influence your success.
To test the impact of decisiveness, we gathered data on 379 leaders. We had managers, peers, direct reports, and others evaluate each person’s decisiveness.
Each assessor rated a leader on their ability to:
Based on the average of all evaluators, we calculated a decisiveness index. The graph below shows the results comparing an organizational potential rating with the average decisiveness percentile score. (Potential ratings were made independent of the decisiveness 360 assessments.) Note that the “High Potential groups have the highest rating on decisiveness and the Develops in Place has the lowest. High potentials would be the most likely to be promoted in the near future while those who were designated as “Develop in Place” were good performers but not likely to be promoted.
Becoming a More Decisive Leader
To understand what leaders did to become more decisive, we looked at evaluations from over 3,000 assessors on over 1,000 leaders. What we found when we analyzed the data was that being decisive requires four key enabling behaviors. These enabling behaviors help leaders to understand decisions, make decisions, and execute them.
(This article first appeared on Forbes.)
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