indecisive leadership

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indecisive leadership

Postby Parker » Tue Jun 16, 2015 1:59 am

Does this sound familiar? You’re sitting in the meeting as a colleague plows through a long proposal for a new product. When s/he finishes, the room falls quiet. Everyone look left, right, up or down, waiting for someone else to open the discussion. No one wants to comment—at least not until they know shows which way the boss is leaning. But what if the boss was the one who didn't comment until s/he knew which way the wind was blowing? What if after being presented with all the facts and evidence, your boss still didn't want to make a decision and wanted to defer to the opinion of another colleague, especially one who had not involved or even aware of the project? I have seen indecisive leadership on the part of some very senior individuals. As a junior member of the team, I have not been able to sway them with facts or logic. Maybe it's because I'm female, slightly introverted or not assertive enough. Or maybe it's them. But after spending hours putting together a comprehensive package that makes the path forward clear, I have still been asked to seek the opinion of other colleagues. And I have sought the opinion of such colleagues only to be looked at like I'm the idiot (like "why are you asking me? isn't it clear based on what you just told me what the path forward should be? then why are you wasting my time with this?"). Unfortunately it doesn't end there. Even if that person is on board, the indecisive leader will not be satisfied because he doesn't want his own behind on the line if things don't go as planned. So even if you go back and report that I ran it by so and so and they are on board, it's still not good enough. You could run every decision by 20 people who are peripheral to the project and the task at hand and the person whose responsibility it is to make the decisions still can't or won't take a stand. How does one overcome this? I should clarify that this indecision affliction doesn't affect everyone, just a few key decision makers. Some people within the organization are able to think strategically and voice their opinions in a very clear and reasonable manner. Unfortunately the the decision makers are indecisive and the strategic thinkers are not in decision making positions. Any thoughts on why/how this happens and how to mitigate?
Last edited by Parker on Thu Jun 18, 2015 1:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: indecisive leadership

Postby D.X. » Tue Jun 16, 2015 5:09 am

Hi -

It happens because the decision maker is not comfortable to take the decision. It's your job to find out why. I recommend you ask specifically what the barrier(s) is and what exactly needs to be known by the decision maker.

Also, you can mitigate based on how you present or rather pre-presentation planning. Did you find out the potential barriers before the meeting? Did you present the senarious of both taking the decision now, not taking it, or delaying the decision? i.e. upside/down side.

Did you open your presentation with exactly what you wanted to achieve at the end of the meeting? (this is what I do) This all help mitigate. At the end of the day, its your job to find out all the challenges your key decision maker has, documentment them prior as you move along with your project and address them. Use the meeting and those who attend as your sounding board. Re-direct inquires to other stakeholders in the room. Try taking over the meeting as a moderator than a presenter.

You should not get to a point where you have a meeting where you have an "ask", and its not achieved due to an de-novo unidentified issue unless a new piece of information emerges during your meeting. Your process of bringing a project forward should be a bi-directional dialog between you and your decision makers, long before you make it to an "ask" presentation. Especially if its your boss.

This is not a bash at all, but optimizing your communication and implementing status checks along your project process, with your decision makers can go along way in terms of saving time and resources - you may be delayed a bit in process but ultimately you mitigate getting an indecision at a more stress inducing time point - which will delay even more.

Key message, start the dialog early much early - seek endorsement much earlier, identify barriers fast, and when you get to an 'ask' meeting - frame up what you want at the very beginning. Document why you can't get you ask and set up a plan to get your "ask".

let me know if this was helpful in terms of managing indecision - this should be easiest to achieve with your boss - life gets harder when your decision maker is not your boss, rather a peer, or even more complex when the person on another team or may have other interests outside of yours.

Unfortunately in many of these situations, the only thing you can change is how you approach.

Hope this helps.

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Re: indecisive leadership

Postby John D. D, » Tue Jun 16, 2015 9:09 am

One option would be just to go ahead and make the decision, and apologize later (so that you take blame). You could see if that makes this person more comfortable or less. (Start with something really small and insignificant to test this out.) You might even try something where there was no good solution, outline the 2 bad options, and then when the person balks as expected, make the decision, and offer retrospectively to take the blame. You might eventually work your way up to getting to make good decisions with good consequences.
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Re: indecisive leadership

Postby Dave Walker » Tue Jun 16, 2015 11:42 am

Broadly, indecisive leadership is a tough issue because you are either 1) the leader in charge doing a bad job, or 2) the direct report that is suffering from it the most, without a means to really change behavior.

Perhaps it wouldn't work in a Big Corporation, but I take a reductive approach -- if the leadership is preventing me from doing my job, it's essential for me to (try and) get it fixed. It is necessary to work with the politics and culture of the company to bring it up correctly, but in my experience a good boss and mentor will be happy to hear ways to improve, even if it points out his/her flaws.

But specifics matter, especially here. You didn't say where you work -- an academic lab, Big Pharma, a startup biotech -- and our anecdotal evidence will help more with that information.

Finally I know business books are a dime a dozen, but there's a classic that I once read, printed way way back in the 80s, that covers this issue incredibly well: Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister. One time I just reread it because I couldn't change my professor's behavior, but wanted to make sure I wasn't crazy when nothing ever got done.
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Re: indecisive leadership

Postby Parker » Wed Jun 17, 2015 1:29 am

Hi all,

Thanks for the feedback. I completely agree that the only thing I can control is my own approach. The person I'm thinking of is not my direct boss, but my boss's boss and a fairly senior member of the executive. Other colleagues (including my boss) have had similar experiences more or less, which makes it even more frustrating because it shows no one has identified a solution.

I work at a translational research institute akin to a biotech company with ~200 employees. The culture is a mishmash of academia, industry and government with employees from various backgrounds. I'm been here a few months and overall it's been a great place to work and I'm happy. These are just a few issues that I'm learning to navigate and adjust to. Again thanks for your feedback. I will try to use different approaches to see what works.
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Re: indecisive leadership

Postby PG » Wed Jun 17, 2015 1:44 pm

Trying to make decisions for your boss´s boss who is also a senior member of the executive team is likely to end badly. At least try to get your boss to make the decision for you ie suggest to him that since you dont get a decision about question x that you would proceed doing y.
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Re: indecisive leadership

Postby Saranneman » Thu Jun 18, 2015 7:13 am


I do recognize your situation. My PI during my PhD was a very indecisive leader. So in the beginning of my PhD, I always came up with multiple suggestions on how to tackle a problem, and then I asked 'what should I do'. Wrong question, because the default answer was 'let me think about it'. Weeks later and multiple reminders later, still no decision.
I learned to handle it differently. When a problem occurred, I again suggested different solutions, but I always ended with 'I suggest to go for option B because of ...' So as already suggested by other forum members, I didn't ask things anymore, I already came with an answer and the default response I got then was 'OK go ahead', which was much more efficient of course.
Hope this might be of any help for your situation.
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Re: indecisive leadership

Postby John D. D, » Thu Jun 18, 2015 9:13 am

I think that the problem is that one would like to be able to include someone with valuable analytical skills in the decision as another valuable point of view, and yet the other person does not seem to be comfortable with anything but "the indecision-making role".

So, hierarchy is reinforced in this situation, but at the expense of the functionality of the organization because everything is painfully delayed.
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