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5 Tips for Being More Decisive

Sergey Nivens/

Decisiveness is a core capability for any leader. No organization can move forward effectively without leaders who can resolve conflicts, set direction or distribute resources (i.e. make decisions) effectively. It’s a capability that leaders must learn to balance.

I’ve worked with many clients who have difficulty making any decision or putting a definitive stake in the ground. They equivocate, listen, or contemplate too much or for too long and their people begin to lose faith in them. I’ve also worked with leaders who simply issue edicts with little or no consultation or knowledge of what is happening on the ground. The result is the same: Their people lose faith in them and their organizations suffer.

Here are five tips for making better decisions:

1. Listen. You need to learn how to listen and gather information throughout your organization, from stakeholders (Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, upper management, etc.) and customers. Each group has something to tell you, but no one group has a monopoly on wisdom. It’s good to take some time to listen, but check that you aren’t falling into the trap of listening too much. Some voices just want to talk and don’t have much to say—and don’t commit to much as you listen. People won’t respect you if you keep agreeing with the last person you spoke with.

2. Manage the ambiguity. Ambiguity is a fact of life. No one has access to perfect information. You need to do your due diligence, but after you’ve listened and gathered your information, you need to move past the ambiguity. You could be wrong, but that’s why you should follow tip No. 3 as well.

3. Decide on the right amount. There are times when you need to bet the farm. The future of the organization might be on the line, and time is short. While sometimes you need to make the big decision, most of the time you just need to take small steps, test whether you are on the right track and then go a bit further. Many leaders would thrive by using more agile management techniques. Don’t get forced into over committing.

4. Practice empathy without paralysis. Understanding the impact that your decisions will have on others but not being paralyzed by it is crucial. I personally had issues with this for many years. I always thought empathizing meant I needed to protect everyone from the effects of decisions. I can understand someone’s reaction without having to take ownership of solving it. Think about how employees, stakeholders, and customers will react to a decision, and just because someone won’t like something doesn’t mean you have to do anything about it. It’s just good to know.

5. Communicate. This is probably the most important consideration. You have to let people know what you decided, why you reached that decision and what the limits of the decision are. If you are rolling out a new strategy, tell people about it. Everyone. And try to tell them the process you used to develop it. What context and environment factors shaped it. What alternatives you considered.

What factors do you think contribute to making balanced decisions?

(Image via Sergey Nivens/

Alan Pentz is a partner and co-founder of Corner Alliance, a Washington-based consulting firm that focuses on helping government clients build strategies to stay relevant in and capitalize on today's shifting technological landscape. He is a former Capitol Hill staffer and holds an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. Contact him at, or follow him on Twitter at @apentz

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