Deciding to Delay
While clear, quick decision-making is a crucial skill that all leaders must develop, sometimes not deciding is the best choice. No, we’re not April foolin’: when a situation is not yet clear enough to make a call; when you suspect a situation requiring a decision will go away on its own; or when you sense that the person requesting action isn’t committed to implementing a decision, it can be best to “wait and see.”
This might seem like a cop out, but not acting can be its own challenge—as leaders, our instinct is to jump in and fix things. But postponing a decision keeps options open, giving you time to collect more input, and allows you and the team to focus time and energy on other priorities.
Of course, this strategy comes with risks: if the situation changes suddenly, you may find yourself in a vulnerable position. Worse, if delay becomes the de facto decision-making process, it can hamstring the entire organization. If you find yourself wondering if you should decide or delay, consider:
- Evaluate. When the idea first comes up, research the situation and the options. Under what circumstances would making a decision be truly necessary?
- Do nothing. If it seems prudent to delay, step back for now and concentrate on the issues that do require your immediate attention.
- Let the team know about your non-decision. Tell the relevant parties that you’re working on it, and if appropriate, explain why you are not making a decision at this time. Your team may agree that it’s best to put off the decision, or they may provide new information which will impact its urgency.
- Stay current. Circle back regularly to see if circumstances have changed or if the decision has increased in urgency. You can also use this time to solicit more information from others, which may help you make a more effective decision if you do need to quickly decide.
- Repeat Step 2. Remember, you only have so much time and so many resources. Make sure you’re spending them on areas that truly require them, not situations that will resolve themselves.