I’ll admit it. Every once in a while I come home from a coaching session feeling frustrated and discouraged.
Usually it happens when a client and I have spent a considerable amount of time developing a list of priorities and options but then weeks (sometimes months) later, the client has neither decided on nor moved forward with any of them. It’s like they’re frozen in place.
These clients know what needs to be done and they readily acknowledge the danger in not taking action. But when faced with the prospect of making the wrong decision, they play it safe by sticking with the status-quo – even when they know it’s not working.
Just existing from one day to the next isn’t enough.
As a coach and former small business CEO myself, I’ve come across this scenario many times. But the future isn’t good for these folks. As the market changes, customer needs evolve, competitors shift, etc., successful leaders understand that a business will either sink or swim depending on how it responds. Treading water is not a sustainable strategy.
The good news is that a lack of decision-making and associated inaction can be managed. Specifically:
- Choose one area of your business where you’ve been putting off making a decision. Just one. For example, I find that many people procrastinate when it comes to hiring – even when they acknowledge they desperately need the help.
Let’s say you need to hire a Sales Manager, a Product Development Manager and a Controller. I know you may want to hire all three at once. But don’t. Part of making decisions easier is focusing on one thing at a time. Choose the one role that will have the greatest immediate impact on your business right now and start taking action.
I also know you may be worried about making a bad hire. Let’s face it. We’ve all been there. But you can’t let that get in your way. Write down the five specific results you want this person to achieve in the next year and get going. Instead of thinking the worst, try to focus on all the ways the right person will help you reach your goals faster.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. As a CEO, you’re not always going to have as much information as you may want prior to making a decision. You have to accept this and be able to move forward anyway.
Unfortunately, many business leaders (particularly those running second and third generation family businesses) find this extremely unsettling. For them, there is often a great deal of fear bubbling just below the surface: fear of disappointing the family, fear of damaging the legacy, or fear of taking the business off in the wrong direction, to name just a few.
Coming to grips with this discomfort – and taking action despite of it – is part of being an effective business leader. And while I never advise recklessness, few fears that people imagine ever come to fruition.
- Expect to make mistakes. Look, I hate to be wrong. I’m extremely competitive and I want results. But sometimes some of your decisions will go bad. It happens to all of us and it goes with the territory.
Of course, you want to minimize mistakes, but we often learn a lot from our failures. Part of running a company is taking managed risks. Not everything is going to work out perfectly and you have to be okay with that.
- Don’t go it alone. The CEO path is a lonely one; there’s usually no one else in the company to confide in or get support from. But there are numerous options outside the walls of your organization.
Seek out a mentor; join a mastermind group of other CEOs; hire an advisor, coach or consultant. Leadership and the decision-making that goes along with it is a learned skill. You can’t be an expert at everything.
- If you’re not the leader your business needs, bring in someone who is. Many CEOs view this option as a sign of failure. But it’s not – it’s an opportunity to get back to whatever it is you’re really good at and grow the company in the process.
Here as well, this problem can be particularly difficult in family owned businesses.
Many CEOs in this situation did not choose to become the leader; it was simply expected of them when the time came. Understandably, they feel an obligation to step up and perform. But remember, your family still maintains control even if you’re not the one running the day to day. It may be in everyone’s best interest for you to step aside.
Decision-making at the top is rarely simple and often scary. It’s easy to second-guess ourselves and, for many, to freeze in the face of opportunity. That said, in the rapidly changing world in which we live, the worst decision is often the one you never make.