Have you ever had problems making a decision? I certainly have, from the smallest silliest (do you want coffee or tea) to the larger more existential ones (should we marry, move to another country), when not considering daily decisions in the office or whatever work site.
So we both know the pains involved: the immobilisation, the insecurity, the awkwardness, swirling around with no results to show. Waiting for others to set directions. Playing out roles rather than being the lead actors of our lives. Making excuses for not meeting goals or commitments.
What about now, are you able to take decisions on time? How about the extent to which you are comfortable moving forward in uncertainty?
Years ago, as I was offered a practice job in Turkey, my father adviced me to simply make a decision there and then. The owner would get annoyed at me if I wasn’t able to take that decision. Dad told me I could always change my mind afterwards as long as I took a standpoint there and then. So I did, had 2 great summers travelling between military bases all around in Turkey. Lots of learning, great fun, friends for life, good money, a life changing experience. I had known my boss and his family for ages, since I was a little girl, from visiting their tiny apartment to me residing in one of their summer villas outside of Istanbul and working for him some 15 years later.
I had reason to listen to my father (as we often should), and to follow up on the expectation of being able to take decisions. I was able to achieve something. Without really understanding it, I had a great role model. More on that later in this story.
The ability to be decisive can fluctuate through life. After years of being in charge of directions, setting goals, taking action, reaching them, and loving it, all of a sudden, for various reasons, I one day lost that ability. It took me some time and personal work to get it back. Luckily for me I’m known to be stubborn, what you also could call strong-willed! I finally decided to be decisive again.
In his Universal Model for Leadership, Bob Anderson describes a leader’s effectiveness and ultimate achieving capability through his DECISIVENESS. Others often attribute delay to lack of competence or vacillation. When you score high you are confident making difficult decisions, balancing data and intuition in uncertain conditions. You are considered responsible, reasonable and others count on you to face important issues. If you score low others will lose confidence in you or take the opportunity to take decisions over your head. You’ll put yourself offline and be likely to erode your operations and strategic goals.
The same model, through the Leadership Circle ProfileTM, shows that low decisiveness often associates with complying or protecting dimensions. Meaning this behavior results from internal assumptions relating your sense of security or self-worth to being approved by others and meeting their expectations. By failing to act you reduce trust in your ability to lead. We need to deal with our inner assumptions to ensure real, lasting behavioural change.
Dr Neil Fione, PhD, licensed psychologist, writes in his book ‘The now habit’ about causes and ways out of procrastination. I like to picture it as a burning now-house with a ladder high up to a future-house, where the safety net is our self-worth. We may be frightened to cross over, the ladder seems too high.
One way to handle this is to move from a negative to a more positive perspective:
· From ‘I have to’ to ‘I choose to’
· From ‘I must finish’ to ‘when can I start ?’
· From ‘so much to do’ to ‘take one step at a time’
· From ‘I must be perfect’ to ‘I’m just a human’
· From ‘no time for fun’ to ‘ I must have time to enjoy’
· From ‘punishment’ to ‘celebrating each and every tiny win’
Another option you have is Worry Management:
1. What is the worst case scenario ?
2. What will I do then?
3. How can I minimise pain and maximise gain ?
4. What are my alternatives?
5. What can I do now to reduce the probability for this worst case scenario?
6. What can I do now to increase the probability for achieving my goal ?
Dr. Barbara Oakley, Professor of Engineering at UC San Diego, is a resourceful woman. I had the joy of attending her course ‘‘Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects’, where I learned about the simple yet powerful Pomodoro Technique to counter procrastination: Instead of focusing on the outcome she wants you to focus on the process. You simply need to commit yourself to sit down and work for 20 minutes. You should not commit yourself to any results though ! Buy yourself a kitchen timer, set if for 20 minutes, start working. When you start you will experience that it often is starting that stops you from doing and eventually completing your task. You can learn more about Prof. Oakley in this Tedx video or from her course .
Coming down from hiking in the Norwegian mountains some years ago, we still had 20 km. My husband, a former british channel swimmer, would be motivated by ‘only so many more km left’ – a slogan which would completely demotivate me. My mantra was ‘Now is now, and right now I am right here’ – that mantra took me step by step back to our car ! I still find it really useful when feeling overwhelmed. And overwhelm could quickly turn back into indecisiveness.
I now know that indecisiveness drains me from energy and that no matter the decision, I will get power, will and energy simply from deciding. That again brings results!
Like with physical fitness, decisiveness is a mental muscle that needs to be regularly trained. It is fueled by inner beliefs so you would want the fuel to be the best. I regularly use my pink Pomodoro timer. On the very rare occasions I would set up the worst case scenario. The Now habit also comes out once in a while. My ‘Now is now’-mantra is the daily tranquiliser as well as decision fertiliser. As for the Leadership Circle ProfileTM , I’ve become a fervent ambassador and practitioner, eager to help others enhance their leadership skills and effectiveness. Not to forget, sometimes you just have to decide to decide !
Going back to the beginning, why should I follow my father’s advice and my earlier boss’ expectation on being decisive? I realised only recently that this man and family , with whom I spent my summer holidays and practice jobs, was one of Turkeys most powerful and secretive tycoons. Starting from a minor eastern mountain city, the family grew its business to play a major role in defense, energy and other sectors. Their resolution combined with their warm and open relating abilities brought them there. But that is a story for another time.
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Strategic Leadership Consultant, Managing Director, Certified Leadership Circle Profile Practitioner