There is a disease that plagues some leaders and it is one of the deadliest. It is rooted in fear. It is powered by pride. It has destroyed entire organizations. I call it “Decision Phobia.”
Some leaders are secretly terrified of making decisions. Though it is their job to both set direction and make the decisions that facilitate direction, these leaders simply cannot face the possible negative outcomes and criticism of their decisions. They become mesmerized by options. They are paralyzed by the possibility of failure. They can’t act.
A good leader wants responsibility. He wants “the ball.” He knows he might make mistakes and that criticism and failure might come. Yet he is willing. He feels called, even “anointed.” He wants the responsibility and has made peace with the risks. He’ll make the decisions that are necessary, face the consequences, and live on to fight—and decide—another day. This is why he’s esteemed and rewarded well. He carries the burden of responsibility and risk. That’s what we want him to do.
The flawed leader doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t want to admit it, and is terrified of criticism and failure. Words haunt him more than reality. He has learned to hide from decision-making by calling for unnecessary meetings, demanding ever more data, and involving far too many people in the process. He is a “perpetual ponderer,’ not a “decider,” to borrow a word from George W. Bush. This leader is not stupid and incapable. He’s simply insecure and cowardly. He needs to recover his reason for stepping into leadership in the first place and then he needs to decide to fulfill his mandate. First, set direction. Second, make the decisions that facilitate direction. That’s it.
A little history would help indecisive leaders. As World War II neared an end, Franklin Roosevelt died and Harry Truman became president. Roosevelt had never told Truman about the newly developed atom bomb, though. When Truman was informed of it, he immediately had to decide whether to use it in the Asian theater of war.
He asked General Marshal to determine how many American lives it would cost to liberate Japan. The general reported that it would cost 250,000. The War Department had already ordered 250,000 body bags. Truman weighed the facts, weighed the morality and made the decision. He ordered atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Years later, Truman was asked if he had ever doubted the decision. “No,” he said. “I was the man with responsibility. I had the fact. I knew what was right. I made the decision and have slept well ever since.”
This was neither hatred nor racism on Truman’s part. It was simply the way a leader makes decisions. Facts. Morality. Responsibility. Destiny. We could all use a bit of “Trumanizing.”
Have a good weekend. And Go Redskins!