When I work with teams, even teams of leaders one of the constant complaints I hear is how often their bosses simply won’t decide. They hear comments like “I’ll think about it” or “I need more information” or “I have to talk with...”, anything that says they aren’t going to make a decision.

It’s super frustrating and most people don’t know what to do. So what do they do? They keep bugging their bosses via email or calls asking if they have made a decision or repeating the importance of needing a decision, like somehow that will make a difference.

How do you work with a leader who can’t, or won’t make decisions?

The first thing to consider is what gets in the way of them deciding. Here are a couple of possibilities:

  • They truly don’t have the right information or enough information to decide. Before approaching them, consider what questions they may have, what information they might need to decide, what have you already considered before coming to them, how critical is the decision and by when does a decision needs to be made.
  • They want you to decide. Often managers want others to make decisions so they can determine their decision-making capabilities. If every time a big decision needs to be made, you ask someone else to decide you won’t grow professionally.
  • Maybe they need time. Some individuals simply can’t make decisions on the spot, they need time to think it over. I worked with an organization that all the VPs told me the president never made decisions. He told me his VPs were always pushing him to make decisions before he was ready. The president was someone who needed time to think through the issues before deciding. It might only be a few hours but he wasn’t going to make a decision on the spot.
  • You have approached them at the wrong time. The bigger the decision that needs made the more important it is for you to assess when and how you approach your boss. Catching them in the hall, at the end of a meeting or any other time they may not be focused or have time for you is likely to get you an outcome you don’t want... no decision.

What can you do when you have an indecisive boss?

  • Make a plan yourself and present it. Think through all the issues and come up with a plan, then present it to your boss.  Ask if they have any other ideas or there is something you have overlooked. Getting a yes may be a lot easier than waiting for them to consider all the facts and get back to you.
  • Schedule time. As I stated above when you need a decision made it’s best to schedule time to discuss so they will be focused and have the time to noodle through all the considerations with you.
  • Don’t be quick to judge and get frustrated. Take the time to learn how and what your manager needs in order to make a decision. Once you know it will be easier to approach them and get your needs met.
  • Let them know by when you need a decision. Don’t assume they understand a critical deadline or by when you need a decision. Let them know by when you need a response, and ask them if they will be able to decide by then.  
  • When all else fails make the decision yourself. If you need a decision and your manager can’t or won’t make it, make it yourself. Inform them of your plans and give them the opportunity to say no or come up with an alternative. I’m not saying give them days but at least 24 hours.

No one wants to make a wrong decision, you or your manager.

I realize you think that part of their job is to make decisions, and while that may be true no all leaders are comfortable with making decisions or know how to make them successfully.

Instead of being frustrated, learn how to work with your manager and provide them what they need so they can make a decision. And step up. 

You can make decisions also, it doesn’t all have to be decided for you by someone else.

About the author

Before launching Incedo Group, Executive Coach Linda Finkle built and managed an executive recruiting firm for more than twenty years. She has been interviewed in Harvard Business Review, Investor’s Business Daily, US News and World Report, Reuters and The Wall Street Journal among numerous other prestigious publications. Her book, Finding the Fork in the Road, hit the bestseller list on Amazon within three days of being launched. To learn more about Incedo Group, visit www.incedogroup.com.

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