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What to Do When Leaders Won’t Make Decisions

by | Aug 1, 2023 | General Career Advice

A common problem I hear in the workplace sounds something like this:

“Some decisions can only be made by leaders. However, they’re often slow to make them and sometimes, they don’t make a decision at all…even when I persistently remind them. This makes it hard (and sometimes impossible!) for me to do my job.”

If this sounds familiar, rest assured you are not alone. You’re also not helpless in this situation. In this video/article, I’ll share some things to keep in mind and strategies to consider when your leaders won’t make a decision.

Watch the video or scroll down to read the article.

As I said, I commonly hear people complain about leaders who let decisions linger on way too long (and sometimes forever). The question is, why does this happen and how can we overcome the issue.

1. Decision Fatigue is Real

Decision fatigue can happen for anyone. If this is a new term for you, it basically refers to the mental exhaustion you feel when you’re overloaded with decisions. Humans only have a finite amount of decision-making power on any given day, and then, the quality of our decisions starts to deteriorate. It’s the reason why, after a long day at the work when the kids ask you what’s for dinner, you just say… “Ice cream!” You’re just burnt out on making decisions and can no longer make good ones.

You have to be patient and allow your leaders to make decisions when they’re in the right headspace. If someone is delaying a decision, there’s a chance that they simply don’t have the capacity to do it presently. Generally, approaching someone for a decision earlier in the day (when they are rested and clear-headed) can help avoid this issue.

2. You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

The workplace is full of interconnections. One decision can have wide-reaching consequences and impacts. In your position, you may not even realize just how much is tied to a specific decision. However, your leaders may be evaluating the various elements behind the scenes. Any number of things could be causing a delay. Regardless of your timeline, there may be other factors that are more important.

3. Reassess Your Role

It may be worthwhile to verify that this decision is one that must truly be made by a leader and no one else. Perhaps it’s possible for you to make the decision. Or another team member. Or maybe this decision isn’t really necessary at all. Is it possible that your leader’s avoidance is actually strategic?

If the decision is indeed necessary and the leader is the only one who can make it, are you doing everything in your power to make it easier on them? For example, perhaps you can provide some background research. Maybe you can identify options and highlight the one(s) you recommend. Leaders generally respond faster when they’re given a selection from which to choose, rather than starting with a blank slate.

4. Define the Ripple Effect

Always provide a deadline by which a decision is needed. If it appears the deadline is going to be missed (or already has been), clearly articulate the negative impact it will have on other people and other dependent tasks. Explain in no uncertain terms that your hands are tied until the decision is made. If appropriate, ask if there is someone else to whom the decision can be delegated.

If this kind of thing is a pattern, it may also be useful to have a broader discussion with your leader at a later time when an immediate issue isn’t on the table. Define the problem as you see it and the impact it has on your ability to do your job. Ask what you can do to help support the leader in making decisions. Again, do your best to offer possible solutions in this discussion.

5. Take a Stand in Person

It’s much harder to push aside a request when it’s made in person. Don’t just rely on email to remind your leader(s) that a decision needs to be made. Speak up assertively in person, multiple times if necessary. Ask what you can do to make sure the decision is made by the established deadline.

Finally, remember that there’s only so much you can do to influence your leader(s) into doing what they need to do. You can’t control another person; you can only control your actions. Do everything in your power to help make it happen, and do your best to deal with the fallout if and when it doesn’t.

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About the Author

Chrissy Scivicque is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and certified Professional Career Manager (PCM). She is an author, in-demand presenter and international speaker known for engaging, entertaining, educating and empowering audiences of all sizes and backgrounds. Learn more here.

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