The Destructive Power of Indecision
As a leader, you have to understand the true strength of leadership comes from your team's confidence in you and your ability to lead them. Once that confidence is eroded, teamwork begins to break down.
I recently dealt with a company whose leader managed to take a strong, unified team and utterly destroy them over a period of a few months, and it all boiled down to his horrible choices, indecision, and complete inability to listen to guidance from anyone but himself.
We'll call this company president Troy (not his real name). Toward the end of 2021, Troy decided it was time to expand his company and open a new location. He told his team continually that he would be building a whole new team at the new location because it wouldn't make sense to hurt his main location for that. His team believed him.
Unfortunately for them, Troy takes pride in his ability to change his mind. He feels it's an admirable trait to tell his folks to work on a project on Monday and come back Tuesday and tell them it's all different. Instead, he just began to build frustration in his team over it.
Troy asked for advice from another businessman who had been in a similar situation. The man told him clearly some things to avoid, and Troy told his team the exact things he said and how they wouldn't be going through those things. Again, his team believed him.
The new location did not pick up steam. Instead, there were dozens of obvious signs this was a bad business move, and the location was even worse. Instead, Troy began to pull key employees from his main location to the new one to make it work. He weakened his main team to create a new location, which was in direct contrast to what he had constantly told them. Frustration began.
After explicitly explaining what the wise businessman had told him and how he wouldn't make the same mistakes he had, Troy began doing exactly what the man had told him not to do. Frustration continued.
Then when the stress began to build, Troy started exploding on his team leaders because he was frustrated that his organization was starting to fall apart...because of his bad choices and indecision. Let me tell you right now, exploding on a team member is an absolute motivation killer and it instantly destroys whatever respect your team had for you. And it is not possible to regain that respect without humbling yourself and admitting your mistakes. Troy did neither.
When his team began to question him on what he was doing as opposed to what he had told them, and how it was adversely affecting the company as a whole, Troy lost it completely and took everything that was said as a personal attack. To him, nothing held any merit.
Ultimately, the new location closed due to lack of business, but by that time Troy had utterly destroyed all confidence his team had in him and the satisfaction they had in their jobs. All because of his indecision.
If you are an indecisive leader, here are three things you should remember:
First, admit you have the problem because it's a guarantee your team already sees it.
Trying to sweep your shortcomings under the rug to avoid facing them is a fool's game. Rather than make you seem like this flawless leader charging into the fray, you are seen as a weak person who cannot face their weaknesses.
We all have flaws and weak areas in our lives. No one is perfect, and anyone who says they are perfect immediately demonstrates they aren't. The key is to know our weak areas and work on them. You aren't required to trumpet them or use them as a crutch, but you do need to be willing to work on fixing them as you can.
The problem many weak leaders face is their unwillingness to take the blame for their shortcomings. They throw members of their team under the bus as the cause for problems thinking it makes them seem strong, but your team already sees the problems. They work with you on a regular basis. You aren't hiding anything.
You will come off a thousand times better by just admitting you need their help in certain areas, and for heaven's sake when you mess up, just acknowledge it and try to learn from it.
So many weak leaders think that by ignoring their mistakes it makes them go away, but it doesn't. Surrounding yourself with a bunch of "yes people" whose sole purpose is to tell you how amazing you are doesn't make you amazing, it just enables your weaknesses to shine more to your team.
Be open and honest, and realize that showing you don't always have it all together isn't a bad thing.
Second, remember that respect is hard to achieve and easy to lose.
One of the most precious commodities you will have with your team is their respect. It can take years to build that respect but can be lost in an instant by one bad action or decision. I'm sure you can think of one public figure or another whose reputation was destroyed in one day. It happens all the time, unfortunately.
The key is to recognize how important respect is, and also to acknowledge it is a two-way street. The amount of respect you show your team is the measure of respect they will show to you as a leader. If you diminish your people to stand taller, you'll find the foundation you are standing on is quicksand.
Weak leaders expect their team to respect them without giving the team any opportunity to question them. I'm not saying your team should question your every decision, but they should have the freedom to come to you if they feel like something is heading in the wrong direction. Even if you don't follow their advice, just the fact that they can come to you with it builds respect for you and investment in their jobs.
If you have a problem with your temper and you also have a problem with being questioned, it is a lethal combination. If you ever go off on an employee--even if you feel they deserved it--you need to remember you have immediately lost their respect and the respect of every person who saw the incident. They aren't going to walk away saying "Wow, the boss sure put them in their place!" Instead, they will be saying "That dude's a psycho!". And you will immediately begin from square "minus one hundred", not square one.
Treat respect as if it were gold because it is. Show respect to your team and they will do the same. Build your team on a strong foundation.
Third, it's better to say "I'm thinking about our next move" than it is to broadcast your plans and then change them constantly.
In an attempt to seem wise, many leaders will tell everyone what they are or aren't going to do too early. After reflection, they decide to do the exact thing they told the team they weren't going to do. The real problem comes when they give the team reasons why they aren't doing something in the initial discussions, then proceed to say they're doing what they said they wouldn't--but now the team knows a list of reasons the leader gave them as to why this is a bad decision!
Imagine giving your team a list of reasons the project is going to fail if you go left, and then you decide a few days later to go left after all. It's hard to build momentum and enthusiasm for a project that seems doomed to fail from the start. And it only gets worse if the project does fail (and even worse if it fails for the reasons you gave them to avoid it earlier). After that, all future projects are automatically starting from a weak point.
Instead, just be comfortable saying "I'm still thinking about what we're going to do on that." Keep your lofty plans to yourself until you are sure that's what you're going to do. And if you give a list of reasons why you aren't going in a certain direction, then don't go that direction later without obvious clarification of how those failure points are now fixed! No one wants to be led blindly into obvious failure.
A sense of bravado can be a bad thing if you are trying to boast about a direction you're going in or avoiding and then you double back on later. Be comfortable with silence. That doesn't mean you keep your team in the dark all the time or you never share goals with them. On the contrary, pitching a vision to your team is a good idea! Just be careful how it is framed before you guarantee your next steps.
Indecision is a weapon. If you aren't careful, you'll go from an inspirational story to a cautionary tale just through the course of one series of bad choices. Recognize if you have a problem and be willing to work on it.
Build your team's confidence every chance you get. Show them you are strong but willing to listen. No one is perfect, and the sooner you are able to accept that the better it will be for your organization.