Leaders are paid to make difficult decisions. This requires leaders to know the facts, take calculated risks, trust their gut, and always prepare their teams for the unexpected. During these uncertain times, I’ve witnessed several hesitant leaders in Fortune 500 companies whose line of sight is blurry. Afraid of making the wrong decision, they cannot see the unique opportunities that are right in front of them. Instead of making the effort to gain greater clarity and understanding of the subject matter at hand, they grow timid and play it safe by finding reasons to avoid making decisions.
Indecisive leaders allow the marketplace to pass them by. And in the process, these leaders begin to create doubt in the minds of their colleagues, employees, board members, and external partners – whose own success is dependent on their ability to make difficult decisions. Indecisive leaders often forget that success comes most to those who are surrounded by people who want their success to continue. As such, if leaders are too afraid of making the wrong decisions, they are being irresponsible to those who are dependent upon their leadership.
Being afraid of making wrong decisions becomes most apparent when leaders are faced with emerging burning platforms that are redefining business models, industry best practices, and the resource requirements to grow and compete. This is why we need more leaders who think more courageously and take more ownership of proactive measures. The reality is, according to surveys conducted by my organization, the Glenn Llopis Group, 78% of leaders have difficulty understanding the consequences of and effectively articulating the requirements to thrive in the rapidly changing marketplace. Perhaps this helps to explain why leaders have become indecisive – to the point where leadership is in crisis management mode.
As you evaluate the leaders within your own organization, be on the lookout for the following four indicators as to why they may be afraid of making the wrong decisions. This could explain why time-sensitive workplace and marketplace opportunities are passing your organization by.
Leaders have become hungrier for control rather than letting go and trusting those around them to help make the tough decisions. Leaders have become more protective of their own domain as they search for more security in what is becoming a more uncertain business climate.
Recently, I met with a former senior vice president from a market-leading telecommunications company who was laid off after being promoted four months prior. He told me that the company’s leadership was afraid of making the wrong decisions, so that when he started to take the initiative to be more decisive, it was met with tremendous resistance. Being afraid to make decisions in an effort to sustain greater control over one’s department or agenda leads to widening of silos and loss of trust between people within an organization.
We often hear that leaders are being tasked to challenge the status quo – yet few take it upon themselves to actually do it. Organizations encourage their leadership to be more provocative and promote thought leadership to enable new strategies for corporate growth. But when leaders are too dependent upon their senior executives, they lack the courage to take action.
Challenging the status quo is about making things better – discovering new ways of doing things for the betterment of a healthier whole. This requires bold leadership that can inspire cooperation among team members and colleagues to embrace a new mindset of continuous improvement. Leaders that grow complacent instead of acting courageous put their organizations’ futures in vulnerable positions.
Companies are being challenged to handle so much change management, and leaders must be strategic to establish priorities. Each change management initiative brings a set of opportunity gaps to solve for. Leaders must not be afraid to make the many decisions along the way to close the gaps – or they run the risk of losing momentum.
Only 32% of leaders identify themselves as change agents. This confirms why so many leaders are afraid to handle the potential repercussions of decision making at a time when change is constant. If leadership is unstable, it is difficult to inspire innovation and initiative in the workplace. Does your workplace culture embrace 21st century leadership? Put your workplace culture to the test – . If you score below 50, you have some work to do.
In today’s marketplace, leaders need to move outside their comfort zone and stop focusing on winning popularity contests. They must face the fact that being afraid of making wrong decisions is the beginning of greater uncertainty down the line for their organizations and the people they serve. In other words, playing it safe today may result in a problem the organization can’t get out from under tomorrow.
Leaders can’t become more afraid of making decisions at a time when we need them to step up their game. This is easier said than done, especially when the stakes become higher – that’s when we need more leaders to live with an entrepreneurial spirit and embrace risk as the new normal. Though some decisions may be the wrong decision – each one gets us all closer to understanding the right course of action.
Besides, when leaders play it too safe, they begin to lose credibility from their peers, and their business acumen comes into question. In the end, leaders begin to lose respect, and when this happens, it no longer matters how many people like them if they no longer believe in them.
Everyone wants to be the hero. No one wants to be the scapegoat. And so, no one wants to risk making the wrong decision. But that’s what real leaders do every day – automatically. If instead they give in to fear and uncertainty, they risk so much more. They risk not seeing the opportunities that are right in front of them. They risk letting the marketplace pass them by only to be seized by the competition. They risk workplace complacency while those with the courage to embrace 21st century leadership and live with an entrepreneurial spirit inspire a workplace culture of innovation, initiative, and continuous improvement.
Glenn Llopis is best known as the “Opportunity Expert” based on his proprietary leadership methodology called the immigrant’s perspective, which defines the characteristics of a 21st century leader. He is a former C-suite corporate executive and entrepreneur of several successful companies; his firm (Glenn Llopis Group) is a thought leadership, human capital, and business strategy consultancy.
Glenn is the author of Earning Serendipity: 4 Skills for Creating and Sustaining Good Fortune in Your Work, Why a Personal Employee Brand will Save Your Career and Your Workplace, Preparing U.S. Leadership for the Cultural Demographic Shift, Awakening the Latino Factor, and Women Must Dive In, Not Just Lean In. He makes frequent appearances on local and national television networks, including CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, and Univision.