Leadership Qualities: Decisiveness.

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Photos courtesy of Vladislav Babienko, Samuel Zeller, Victoriano Izquierdo, Thomas AE and Allegue Barros on Unsplash.

In the face of a crisis?  What is the trait that you value most about your leader?  The ability to make a decision and act upon it.

“The easiest way for a boss to gain the respect of subordinates is to make a decision and act on it.  Without credibility, which stems from decisiveness, a boss is nothing it seems: a general with no troops, a coach with no players, a pastor with no warm bodies in the pews” (Thomas, 2017).

Imagine two plane crashes within  six months of each other with the same model plane and with the same flight software system (MCAS) implicated.  What does the leader do when faced with the safety of millions of passengers and crew flying everyday, trusting the systems on these jets to work?  Reports tell us aviation authorities across the world, including the FAA, grounded the Boeing 737 Max fleet until investigations are concluded (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/03/24/boeing-max-american-airlines-cancelling-90-flights-daily-as-boeing-737-max.html).  And, industry leaders follow this lead.  For example, American Airlines is already proactively canceling 90 flights per day throughout April and offering passengers re-booking options.

In another industry, consider passengers being severely injured from defective automobile airbags.  In Jamaica, we were not spared the injuries as one accident victim had to endure oral and facial surgery because of the injuries sustained from the airbags in a minor accident (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jePE0yH6d8).  So, faced with the crisis, Honda and Acura recalled 1.4 million vehicles, offering a free replacement of the defective airbags through their local dealers (http://fortune.com/2018/09/28/honda-acura-airbag-recall-takata-recalls/).

It is therefore undeniable that “Strategic decisiveness is one of the most vital success attributes for leaders in every position and every industry (Tasler, 2013; https://hbr.org/2013/10/just-make-a-decision-already).  In fact, 6500 workers surveyed in 2014 ranked decisiveness as one of the top three skills that build a leader’s credibility.  The remaining 2 skills are open communication and personal presence (Benston, 2018).

Another study on the characteristics of a great boss by Thomas and Dealy (2004) surveyed 11 industries and identified 5 top characteristics valued in bosses.  However, the most important is “the ability to decide” (https://www.industryweek.com/leadership/meeting-hell-when-decision-makers-can-t-decide).  Even when they did not like their boss, or were unsure of their motives, they were still favorable towards their boss so long as they were regarded as a decider.  And, the outcome was far less important than the fact that the decisions was made quickly.  Delaying a decision proved to be the fastest way for a boss to lose credibility.  Waiting for no reason, calling more meetings, or vacillating signaled death (Thomas, 2017).

This view was supported in an article by Fries (2018)  where a good leader is willing to take on the risk of decision making. Decisions are made and risks taken knowing that whatever the outcome, they are responsible.  Wasting time in debating and consensus building to create a piecemeal decision ultimately satisfied no one (https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimberlyfries/2018/02/08/8-essential-qualities-that-define-great-leadership/#c986e2e3b633).


Photo courtesy of Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Researchers at Berkeley, Bernheim and Bodoh-Creed (2014) surveyed participants’ preferences for political candidates.  They found that voters prefer leaders who perceive high costs of delay and have little uncertainty about how to weigh different aspects of the decision problem.  Preferred candidates more often chose to ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead,’ and rejected ‘Let me mull it over and I’ll get back to you after I weigh the options’… (http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/acreed/Indecision.pdf).

A quick and well thought through decision backed by logic, gut instinct and taking personal responsibility for whatever the outcome will be, can boost our professional standing in the eyes of those around us (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/decisiveness-why-its-so-important-leadership-jane-benston).

Admittedly, this is an area where women struggle more than men and so more males become incompetent leaders (Chamorro-Premuzic, 2019).  Why?  Leadership potential is equated by many organizations with destructive personality traits, such as overconfidence and narcissism. So, we all suffer at the hands of men and women who are valued for arrogance rather than humility, and loudness rather than wisdom.

 As technology changes we must embrace the soft skills that facilitate effective leadership.

 Artificial Intelligence (AI) will undoubtedly change the “hard” elements of leadership (i.e., raw cognitive processing of facts and information). But meta-analytic studies over the past 50 years indicate that personality traits (i.e., curiosity, extraversion and emotional stability) are twice as important as IQ (reasoning capability) in predicting effective leadership (Chamorro-Premuzic, Wade, & Jordan,  2018).

For example, when Carlos Torres Vila, the CEO of Spanish bank BBVA, was charged with transforming the bank from a traditional brick-and-mortar one into one of the leading digital  financial services organizations he employed soft skills.  The result was a transformative culture that embraced “agility, flexibility, collaborative work, entrepreneurial spirit, and innovation” (https://hbr.org/2018/01/as-ai-makes-more-decisions-the-nature-of-leadership-will-change).

If you are interested in improving your decisiveness, then follow these simple steps:

  1. Take a balance view. According to Richard Brandson, ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” And “if that happened, could I handle it?”
  2. Embrace uncertainty.  A timely decision made with confidence and based on experience will almost always trump one that’s perceived to be slow and indecisive.
  3. Engage stakeholders. Move on from the fact finding and collaboration and make a decision!
  4. Use your internal GPS.Based on experience, your gut instincts will be right way more often than you think.
  5. Own it.No flip flopping or second guessing allowed.   Also, own the outcome – good or bad (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/decisiveness-why-its-so-important-leadership-jane-benston).

The research is trending in the same direction.  A study conducted by Timothy D. Wilson and his colleagues at the University of Virginia and the University of Pittsburgh demonstrated this again using art.  The task was to select a piece of art to hang in their homes. Half were asked to think rationally about their choice; half were told to go with their gut. Those who went with their feelings were happier with their selection.  So, trust your gut (https://gbr.pepperdine.edu/2010/10/great-leaders-are-great-decision-makers/).

You can improve decisiveness through a daily meditative practice: moments of quiet reflection, a warm bath, a long walk, a leisurely swim, breakfast on the balcony, and so much more.

In closing, it appears that decisiveness is more about having courage than being correct.  True leaders generally have the courage to make decisions without unnecessary hesitation.  However, detailed fact-finding will be used when the situation demands it (O’Byrne, 2017; https://www.supplychainleadersacademy.com.au/traits-of-true-leaders/).

An extended trip a while ago taught me how critical it is to be decisive.  Read about taking responsibility, travelling, listening, and more in Be Prepared and other works at  http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/KeishaAMitchellPhD  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zfPWaPCJ0vE  .

Photos courtesy of Brandon Lopez and Thomas Drouault on Unsplash.

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