I think it is non-controversial to state that one of the key elements of being a successful leader is the ability to make timely and good decisions. When sufficient information has been obtained and when adequate thought has been given to the clearly positive advantages and potentially negative aspects of the decision under consideration, the best leaders are then willing to pull the trigger, bite the bullet and own the decision.

No procrastination, no second-guessing what has now been decided, no blaming others or making excuses if the decision turns out to not having been a good one.  It was Ted Engstrom, a past president of World Vision who said:

“Readiness to risk failure is probably the one quality that best characterizes the effective leader.  Never vacillate in making a decision.  Indecision at the top breeds lack of confidence and hesitancy throughout an organization.”

The higher you are in an organization, the more responsibility you carry and there is more riding on each decision made. The bottom line though, is that leaders make decisions–that’s what leaders do! 

Here are a few things ou can count on as you make decisions–especially the controversial and difficult ones:

  • Some will like your decision(s);
  • Some will not like your decision(s);
  • Some will not understand why you made the decision(s);
  • Some will understand why you made the decision(s), but still not like it;
  • Some won’t care what you decide;
  • Some will leave because of the decision(s) you made.

 So, making decisions (especially the tough, agonizing and controversial ones) goes with the territory in being a leader. People in teams, in work groups and in any church or organizations expect leaders to make decisions. Nothing wrong here…so far! 

But there can come a point in time where this leadership responsibility, the expectations of those being led and the ability to be decisive goes south and the leader is now seen as domineering (See I Peter 5:3 and an earlier post on this topic titled “Not Domineering”) dictatorial, autocratic and egotistical. 

What started out well is now perceived as bad and unacceptable. How does this happen?

Let me take a stab at exploring how it happens:

1.  The leader has come to believe that no one in the room is as bright and gifted as he/she is;

2.  The leader begins to value his/her own thinking and decisions as being superior to everyone else’s;

3.  The leader now begins to make decisions in isolation, without discussing them with anyone;

4.  The leader is not open to having anyone question a proposed decision;

5.  The leader is not open to considering any alternative decisions or ideas on the issue at hand;

6.  The leader becomes angry when his/her proposed decision is challenged or questioned;

7.  The leader begins creating a culture of fear where honest and appropriate dissent and honest questions are not welcomed and people are afraid to disagree with anything the leader thinks or says.

8.  As a leader, it is critically important that you process with your people… not pronounce to your people what you’re thinking or deciding.

When you have a meeting (which I hope you would do regularly) to discuss key decisions needing to be made, your goal as a leader should be to go into a meeting with a decision that you are thinking of making and walk out with a better and more well-thought-through decision after receiving honest feedback.

What starts out as an admirable trait and quality (being decisive) can, over time, morph into a negative leadership style (dictatorial) that will, in the long run, cause more harm than good and result in many good and creative people leaving. Those remaining may keep great (and sometimes better) ideas to themselves out of fear.

“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, he said, and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you.” Mark 10:42,43 (The Message)

My fellow leader and follower of Jesus, his words to his close disciples then are just as needful for us to hear now!: “It’s not going to be that way with you.”