The REAL Reason Leaders Hesitate to Decide (And What to Do About It)


Struggling with decision-making in your leadership role? Find out the real reasons behind your hesitation so you can confidently make decisions.

What Leaders DO

Leaders do a lot! They must gain influence and trust. They must make progress and achieve results. They elevate everyone around them.

But at the heart of all this leadership activity, we find one commonality: Decision Making.

Making decisions is what leaders DO. It’s not just part of the job. In many ways, it is the job.

Leaders must decide:

  1. When to create or innovate.
  2. When to hire (or fire).
  3. How to build the culture.
  4. How to organize the team.
  5. How to grow influence.
  6. How to increase revenue.
  7. When to spend money.
  8. How to best communicate inside and outside the organization.
  9. If the current strategy or model is working.
  10. And what to do if it’s not.

We could list hundreds of decisions leaders are responsible for. The list is never-ending.

Two Decision Dilemmas

Great decisions require good information.

Simple decisions can be made from past experiences or gut instincts, but we can’t rely on simple approaches for complex decisions. And unfortunately, most leadership decisions aren’t simple.

Look back at the list above. We must gather, digest, and synthesize information to make great decisions on innovation, change, people, organizational structures, revenue challenges, etc. And not from just one side of the issue, either. We need to evaluate from various perspectives and multiple people.

All this information gathering leads many leaders to:

1. Too Much Information

We call this “paralysis by analysis.” Too much information makes decision-making nearly impossible. When a leader seeks wisdom and opinions from various perspectives and multiple people, rarely (if ever!) will the feedback point in one direction or to one solution. It seems the more information we get, the more complex the decision becomes, stalling out the process.

2. Incomplete Information

Conversely, leaders often feel they need more information to make effective decisions. These leaders delay decisions, hoping to discover 100 percent certainty or unanimous consensus. While we intellectually understand certainty or consensus isn’t realistic, holding out for more data keeps some leaders from moving forward.

Our Greatest Decision Struggle!

These information-related dilemmas are problematic for leaders, but neither represents the greatest decision obstacle. These information struggles tend to be more excuses than impediments.

Excuses for what, you ask?

Excuses to not make the decisions they know need to be made.

This is the problem with decisions. Once made, they require implementation. For instance:

  • Considering if a staff member needs to be released differs from deciding to release them.
  • Pondering if the organization needs to evolve differs from deciding to change the structure.
  • Expressing curiosity about the staff culture isn’t the same as actively deciding to evaluate, engage in hard conversations, and change the culture.

It’s the ramifications of the decision that create our greatest decision struggle.

In most cases, leaders know what decision to make. They’re just afraid to make it. They’re worried about the ramifications, the hard conversations, and the potential fallout. But decisions are a primary focus of leadership. They can’t be ignored. Or overlooked. After all, not making a decision is a decision.

A Real-Time Leadership Example

I work with some great marketplace and ministry leaders. I was sitting in the office with one of these leaders last month, discussing a decision he was making. I asked him several questions, concluding with, “What decision should you make?

In the privacy of his office, with only me listening, he answered immediately. He knew what needed to happen. He didn’t need more information or time to process. He knew.

He also knew that this decision would require some hard conversations and may disappoint some staff members. It was the right decision for the mission and organization, but the decision wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed by all.

As we discussed the decision, I asked, “What’s keeping you from making the decision you know is best?

Turns out, this was a painful and clarifying question. His response was what we both knew was true: The ramification of the decision was the obstacle.

When You Know…

Leaders make decisions. It’s part of the job. In many ways, it is the job.

Our most significant challenge isn’t knowing what to decide but moving forward with the decision. When you’ve gathered information, sought wisdom, and considered all the options, don’t allow fear to delay decisions. Refusing to decide is a decision, and it’s often the worst decision you can make.

Let’s end with a few questions:

  1. What decisions are you facing?
  2. Have you gathered enough information? Have you sought wisdom? Have you evaluated options?
  3. What’s keeping you from making a decision, really?
  4. What potential ramifications are the most unnerving?
  5. What will happen if you make a decision?
  6. What will happen if you refuse to decide?

Remember, if leadership were easy, everyone would do it. You’re a leader for a reason. You’re entrusted with a team, department, ministry, or organization. Leadership is a stewardship and requires decisions. I encourage you to evaluate how you make decisions and, more importantly, why you delay decisions.