There's a big difference between being decisive and being impulsive. It's essential to recognize when you've gathered sufficient information and it's now time to act, versus when you should continue to strategically procrastinate to gather more intelligence or wait for circumstances to sort themselves out.
- Taking decisive action is all well and good but when is the right moment to do it? How do you know the difference between being decisive and being impulsive? If you take action just to end the uncertainty or relieve the stress of knowing you need to decide, you can end up with suboptimal or even dangerous results. Here's how to know when you should act. First, start with hard facts. Is there a firm deadline by which a decision needs to be made? In some cases, there will be.
For instance, if you've applied for an executive MBA program and you need to tell them whether or not you're enrolling. In the cases where there's not a definitive deadline, is there an implicit deadline? For instance, if you're hiring for a position, you often haven't told candidates an exact date by which you'll let them know but if you keep them waiting three months for an answer, it's likely they've all moved on to other interviews and other opportunities. In that case, there's an assumed range that you might choose a candidate within say two to four weeks. Getting clear on the parameters can help focus your decision making efforts.
Next, ask yourself if it's likely or possible that the situation will resolve on its own. For instance, you might have just hired a new employee and after your first staff meeting, you might be concerned that he seemed quiet and didn't contribute. It's possible that he's too shy and won't be a good cultural fit at your company but it's also possible that he wanted to sit back and see how your staff meetings are run so he wouldn't make mistakes or alienate anyone without knowing how things typically go. His behavior might be a smart adaption to a new environment and at the second or third staff meeting, by the time he knows the lay of the land, he might be contributing all the time.
That's a situation where you need to wait and give it time because you'll make a better decision with more data in hand. In situations like that, it pays to strategically procrastinate. It's better not to make a move right away because the situation may simply take care of itself and if you act before then, it'll likely be premature. Finally, it's useful to interrogate your own impulses. As a leader, you have to know yourself and your own biases. For some of us, there's a tendency to want to wait on almost every decision and for others, we want to resolve things fast.
Before you do something about those feelings, stop and take note. Why are you feeling that way? Actually, write it down. What is prompting you to lean in that direction? You want to have specific reasons you can point to rather than just it feels like the right thing to do. For instance, it may well be the right decision to fire your new assistant if he bungled multiple projects in a row and you're coming up on the end of his 90 day trial period. That has a clear rationale and a timeline. Firing him because he doesn't seem like a fit and it's better to act fast probably needs more thought and a more concrete explanation.
Decisive action is great but knowing when to take action is half the battle. By following these principles, you can choose more wisely.