Make A Decision! Or Risk Losing Respect

I love the meme: Be Decisive. The Road of Life is Paved With A lot of Flattened Squirrels That Couldn’t Make a Decision.  Ok so we aren’t talking about life or death decisions here but the consequences for failing to make decisions can be dire.

I have served as an Executive Coach for nearly twenty years and in that time I have heard many candid reviews about leaders from those they lead.  One of the #1 complaints?  Leaders who can’t make decisions.

I can assure you, if you are a leader that hems, haws and drags your feet making decisions you are causing great frustration for your team.  Leadership means providing direction and order for people to do their work effectively.  Part of that responsibility is making decisions that impact their priorities, resource allocation and clarity of expectations and goals.  When leaders take too much time making these critical decisions, they hold up progress from every layer under them in the organization.

Leaders must make decisions every day. The best leaders are transparent in their decision-making. They communicate how decisions will be made and make clear to those who report into them what levels of decision making authority and autonomy they have  within their areas.

Context matters in decision making.  Different situations call for different styles of decision making. Leaders have several to choose from — there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Here are four primary decision making styles to consider:

Authoritative: The leader decides and then communicates a decision. This style is best for scenarios with urgent tight time frames (a crisis) or when the leader is the only person with the insight or information necessary to make the call. Wise leaders avoid overuse of this style. They know using it means risking little or no buy-in to their decision.

Consultative: This style is about getting input from the team prior to a leader making a decision. A leader might begin from scratch with this style, saying “I am going to make a decision but I want your input before I do, what do you think about…?” or, “I have narrowed my decision to two options, but before I decide I want to run these two options by you to get your input.”  I encourage leaders to use this style generously. Why? It allows for influence and input from others (thereby increasing buy-in, commitment and reducing risk) but keeps clarity around who is making the decision (you, the leader) intact. A word of caution: If you aren’t open to influence, don’t pretend you are. It’s a huge mistake- I have stories about how it can backfire. Be prepared to disclose your rationale for not following recommendations or suggestions and don’t take too long to make the call once you get the input.

Consensus: With this style (FYI you lose your right to veto as the leader), essentially the team agrees to support the decision of the group. The plus — this often results in buy-in and commitment. The minus — trying to achieve consensus can be difficult and time-consuming. One stubborn person can hold up the process thereby creating the  “tyranny” of consensus. Trying to make all team decisions by consensus is a recipe for team frustration and struggle. Consensus shouldn’t be attempted with challenging decisions that require responsiveness and timely action.

Delegation: With this style, leaders give their decision-making authority away to others. This styles builds individual and team confidence/satisfaction (autonomy is a huge motivator for people) and it makes sense when someone clearly has more experience, skill and understanding required to make the call. Make sure to provide clear parameters when delegating.

I frequently observe and coach team meetings and often ask the question, “Who has decision-making authority over this?” Too often, no one knows. Meetings are a tremendous investment in resources; having clarity around decision-making authority, commitment and accountability are critical to bottom-line results. For critical or complex initiatives, or if the majority of your meetings are spent wasting time, getting expert help to achieve results may be in order.

Leadership Should Recognize Staff

DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON many employers recognize employees for their hard work and contributions throughout the year with parties, bonuses and gifts. These annual rewards are important to boost employee morale, but so is demonstrating ongoing appreciation for individual excellence throughout the rest of the year.

If you have ever been publicly recognized for your workplace contributions, you know how great it can feel. Wise leaders get this and look for ways to treat people like winners.

Decades ago, both Maslow (1943 with his hierarchy of human needs) and Herzberg (1959 with his workplace job satisfaction and motivational factors) identified the basic human need for appreciation and recognition. Today’s employees rank recognition as the most important factor to job satisfaction. Mary Kay Ash (who rewarded her top performers with pink Cadillacs) astutely noted, “There are two things people want more than sex and money: recognition and praise.”

Recognizing worker contributions is the simplest motivational tool available to managers, yet it’s shockingly underutilized. Sadly, according to the Gallup survey folks, 60 percent of American workers claim they have received no praise or recognition in the past year.

Many “old school” bosses balk at giving workers a pat on the back for “just doing their jobs.” They underestimate the importance of visibly appreciating others. Times and generations have changed. Today’s youngest workers, the “millennials”(born after 1980), grew up with doting parents and receiving trophies on sports teams for showing up. This generation is positive, confident and expects encouragement and acknowledgement of their contributions. Bosses who never say thank you will drive away today’s talent. Dissatisfied workers often result in lower morale, motivation and performance and more employee turnover.

Remember that good behavior can be extinguished. If no one acknowledges efforts and contributions, employees may easily conclude it isn’t worth bothering with anymore. Smart managers understand that what is recognized (and rewarded) today often will be done again tomorrow.

An important disclaimer — give acknowledgment where it is genuinely deserved. It undermines your credibility to lavish reward or praise for mediocre or non-performance (i.e., giving someone the employee of the month award simply because it was “their turn”).

Employees tell us in countless surveys that getting encouragement helps them perform at a higher level. Yet less than half of all managers claim they actually give recognition for high performance. They say things like:

  • “They know I appreciate them.” Really, how do they know unless you tell them?
  • “I don’t have the time.” The best leaders make time to motivate their people.
  • “They’re professionals, they don’t need it.” Everyone needs recognition.
  • “I feel uncomfortable giving praise.” Practice would help.

It’s a simple courtesy to recognize a job well done. Don’t assume they know; tell them! A personal, heartfelt thank you is often deeply appreciated and motivating, particularly when it comes from the boss.

One of my favorite recognition stories is a boss who sent a brass band to a person’s workstation to trumpet what she had done to save a key client account. Now that’s recognition!


Consciously think about how to reward success. Make a list of all those whose work for you or with you and the things they have done well or beyond expectations. Walk around and look for what’s right. When you find it, here are tips on how to recognize it.

  • Just say it: “Thank you.”
  • Take the team to lunch to celebrate completion of a project.
  • Bring in dinner for those staying late to complete something.
  • Publicly share recognition and positive customer letters at company meetings, in e-mail, employee newsletters or bulletin boards.
  • Find an object that creatively symbolizes recognition. (Charles Schwab passes around a stuffed giraffe to employees who “stick their neck out.”)
  • Write a personal thank-you card.
  • Follow up with a worker’s suggestion to let them know their idea has been implemented.
  • For any company recognition programs, make sure the “rules” are consistent, clear and fair. Research shows that the most effective company recognition programs are ones that employees design.