In his book, The Proactive Leader: How To Overcome Procrastination And Be A Bold Decision-Maker David De Cremer has identified and explored perhaps one of the most detrimental behaviours that a leader can exhibit; that of procrastination. The inability or unwillingness of a leader to make a decision and then take action can have a highly destabilising influence on a team.
So what is it that stops leaders making decisions and taking actions?
Ideally, a decision is made with the advantage of knowledge, experience and a rational approach. Cremer’s analysis has identified, however, that many leaders do not approach decision making in such a structured manner.
It is, it appears, common for a leader to feel that they don’t have sufficient information to make a decision and so spend time and effort gaining for more data than they need. Secondly, they have a fear that any decision they make will be interpreted as a poor decisions by their followers and any external opinions. And thirdly, the leader’s natural biases and tendencies can often lead to blind spots all of which lead to irrational decisions.
Leaders that delay their own decisions will delay the decisions within the organisation and this may lead to an organisation that adopts inertia and procrastination as a de facto culture.
You can identify procrastination in leaders from some of the reasons they use to justify delays. Phrases such as ‘I work better under pressure’, ‘pressure makes me more creative’ or ‘I can deal with that later’ all have a flavour of a leader that is not taking decisions.
Procrastination it seems is the result of factors at 3 levels:
- Emotional – Where negative feelings about action stall decisions
- Physical – Where the leader’s energy and passion do not enable a robust decision
- Strategic – Where the leader is unaware of his weaknesses and does not pick the strategic decisions to make.
Cremer draws upon much contemporary research to support his findings and in particular the work of Geert Hofstede and his assessment of international culture on activity.
The desire of some nations to avoid conflict and the need for some cultures to avoid uncertainty will naturally lead to procrastination and where a culture or nation has less need for certainty and are content with conflict and creative friction, the decisions are more likely to be made more rapidly.
Having explored the factors that generate procrastination, Cremer then discusses the impact that procrastination has.
People and businesses that put off decision making will often be less successful. A decision allows action to be taken and feedback on the resultant performance will guide adjustments to improve performance. No decision means that the organisation waits and perhaps misses the opportunity.
There is also the perception from the team that the leader that fails to make firm decisions is not up to the task leading to less trust and cohesion in the group.
Cremer does not leave the reader without a way to overcome procrastination. Avoiding physical and mental exhaustion will allow you to make considered decisions and follow through on them. Working on relationships with the team will create supportive and open climates of trust and co-operation. And being aware of the consequences of your decisions makes you consider them fully and make them more confidently.
An engaging and thoughtful assessment of procrastination, the impact is has and some insight into how to become a proactive leader and the benefits that has. Although a relatively small text, the value it offers is very much worth the time is takes to read and the space it will take in yours leadership library.
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