Indecisive or prudent?  The distinction can have profound impact on the quality and quantity of decisions in an organization.

Indecisiveness is the learned behavior of not making timely decisions.  It is a habit of putting off what can be decided or acted upon now. Indecisiveness is one of the most irritating behaviors team members complain about in their leaders.

The consequences of indecisiveness include lost opportunities, lost time, lost followership, less engagement, and (paradoxically) fewer choices.  There are also the emotional costs involved with worry and rumination. Indecisiveness can result in prolonging the tenure of the wrong people on the team, lack of clarity with peers/partners, and cloudy thinking about next steps.

The major cause of indecision is ego sensitivity.  Indecisiveness is a strategy to protect the ego through avoidance. If no action is taken, no blame can be given.  If a decision is delayed that may affect others, then the ego can feel good that it was still the “good guy.”

Indecisiveness is different from prudence because in considering risk and reward, risk to the ego is blown out of proportion and acts as a big, heavy thumb on the scale. As the figure illustrates, when we are indecisive, ego risk is being inappropriately added to objective risks.  When considering the decision to terminate an employee, the objective risks considered might include potential legal risks, impact of lowered capacity, or replacements costs.  Examples of ego risks may include fear of still being liked, fear of disappointing others, or fear that people will think it is an admission of a poor hiring decision.  If these ego risks sound a little silly, it’s because they are silly, especially when brought to light.


Planes have collision avoidance systems to keep them from crashing into navigational hazards like mountains, buildings, and other planes.  Likewise people can have a collision avoidance system dialed in to avoid any impact on their ego.  In addition to decisions, people may also avoid new situations, information and conflict.  As a result, they bounce around like a steel ball in the Japanese pinball game of pachinko.

People can shift out of indecisiveness by keeping the key points below in mind:

  • Take risk to your ego out of the equation and focus on objective risks
  • Recognize that not making a decision is in fact a decision and may limit future options.
  • De-emphasize reliance on avoiding strategies related to decisions, situations, information and conflict and instead focus on opportunity-maximizing strategies.

By all means make prudent decisions, but also take care that over-concern for your ego is not slowing you down and putting unnecessary limitations on your effectiveness.


Photo by matthaeus on Unsplash