“Ninety-five percent of all the decisions you’ll ever make in your career could be made by a reasonably intelligent high school sophomore. But they’ll pay you for the other five percent.” Marion Folsom  

Here’s what a decisive leader looks like, the process for making a good decision, and what indecisiveness looks like.  

DECISIVENESS: “The ability to recognize key factors and finalize difficult decisions. The ability to make difficult decisions swiftly and well, and act on them.” Larry Bossidy

“If, on a practical decision in the world of affairs, you are waiting for all of the information for a good decision, it never comes. There always is more information, sometimes a great deal more, than one might have if one waited longer or worked harder to get it—but the delay and the cost are not warranted. On an important decision one rarely has 100 percent of the information needed for a good decision, no matter how much one spends or how long one waits. And if one waits too long, one has a different problem and has to start all over. This is a terrible dilemma of the hesitant decision-maker.” Greenleaf[i]  

“A leader has to have the confidence to think that his decisions will be proven correct. While trying to retain humility, you must accept that the reason you’re making these decisions and others are not, is because, for now, you’re in charge and they aren’t. You do no one any good if, like Hamlet, you cannot carry the weight of your convictions. Yes, you must guard against arrogance; but if you’re doing your job and putting your motives and conscience through their paces, accept that maybe you really do know better and can see a little further down the road than others.”[ii]

“Every leader today has to unlearn one lesson that was drilled into each one of them: You gather data so that you can make considered decisions. You can’t do that on Internet time. Leaders have to develop the chops for real-time decision making. I learned that from Bill Gates. He always said to me, ‘I don’t care if a manager makes five serious mistakes. At least that person is making decisions and learning from them.’ If your instinct is to wait, ponder, and perfect, then you’re dead.” Quindlen[iii] 

Learn to review your decisions. “I’ve spoken to entrepreneurs who routinely sit down at the end of their week and look at the decisions they’ve made. It’s almost meditative. They get rid of all other distractions and review what they did, what they might have done differently, and what lessons came out of that, for future reference.” Michael Useem


a.     Some decisions matter more than others.

b.     Action is the goal.

c.     Ambiguity is the enemy.

d.     Speed and adaptability are crucial.

e.     Decision roles trump the organizational chart.

f.      A well-aligned organization reinforces roles.

g.     Practicing beats preaching.[iv]            

Three things to consider when a decision needs to be made: Who contributes input? Who makes the decision? Who carries it out?

A six-step decision making process:

a.     Set managerial objectives. The decision making process begins with setting objectives and ends with reaching objectives.

b.     Search for alternatives. Relevant information is formulated into alternatives that seem likely to fulfill the objectives.

c.     Compare and evaluate alternatives. By formal and informal means alternatives are compared based on the certainty or uncertainty of cause-and-effect relationships.

d.     Make a choice. Choice is a moment in the process of decision making when the decision maker chooses a given course of action from among a set of alternatives.

e.     Implement the decision. This is the moment when the choice is transformed from an abstraction into an operational reality.

f.      Follow-up and control. This function is intended to ensure that the implemented decision results in an outcome in keeping with the objectives that gave rise to the decision-making process. Kirkpatrick and Locke[v]  

“If the decision is going to be made by the facts, then everyone’s facts, as long as they are relevant, are equal. If the decision is going to be made on the basis of people’s opinions, then mine counts for a lot more.” James Barksdale

When making a decision as a team, assign someone the role of “devil’s inquisitor” – someone who will ask questions to help people look for evidence outside their bounds of awareness (not a devil’s advocate, who merely argues against the status quo). A “devil’s inquisitor” is one who probes and asks questions.

When making a decision, always be skeptical of the absence of contradictory evidence. “The information that life serves is not necessarily the information that one would order from the menu, but like polite dinner guests and other victims of circumstances, people generally seem to accept what is offered rather than banging their flatware and demanding carrots.” Dan Gilbert  

Here are some symptoms of being indecisive:

  • You are slow to innovate.
  • You are reactive rather than proactive.
  • You respond slowly to changes in the marketplace.
  • You are resistant to change.
  • You hesitate to make decisions unless there is consensus.
  • You are not good at resolving conflict.
  • You are slow to implement decisions.
  • You tolerate missed deadlines.
  • Your meetings seldom produce action.



For more resources on leadership, go to iPlace.org.

[i] Greenleaf, R. (1977). Servant Leadership, New York: Paulist Press, pg. 36.

[ii] Giuliani, R. (2002). Leadership, New York: Miramax Books, pg. 226.

[iii] Fast Company, June 1999, pg. 104 

[iv] Harvard Business Review, January 2006, pg. 59 

[v] Kirkpatrick and Locke, from Wren, Thomas (editor) (1995). The Leader’s Companion, Insights on             Leadership Through the Ages, New York: The Free Press, pg. 136, pg. 410.

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