How to Avoid the Common Problems of Poor Decision Making as a Team Leader

How to Avoid the Common Problems of Poor Decision Making as a Team Leader


Being a leader in any field is tough. Top leaders know that when they make a decision, it’s not just about the immediate action and reaction that matters but also the long-term effects that can ripple through a team and cause confusion and chaos. Unfortunately, being the one who has to make the decision puts you in a position to be hated or admired, promoted or fired, and followed or rejected by your team.

An example was the 2010 scandal of the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill caused by the Deepwater Horizon rig located in the Gulf of Mexico. It happened because of a flawed decision to cut costs and install a deficient safety system, which the workers were aware of. It led to a blowout resulting in 11 deaths and an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil leaking into the sea affecting marine life, estuaries, beaches, and wetlands for years. Later, BP was ordered to pay $18.7 billion in fines, the highest corporate settlement in the United States.

Making poor decisions can happen to any leader. The most common causes for making a flawed decision include the following:

  • Time pressure
  • Limited access to information
  • Lack of expertise and unwillingness to ask the experts
  • Laziness
  • Poor anticipation for the unexpected or lack of due diligence
  • Focusing on the past
  • Being indecisive
  • Depending on others
  • Being isolated
  • Failing to establish strategic alliances
  • Poor communication skills

With poor decisions come greater issues like a disrupted team, poor productivity, strained relationships, missed opportunities, or mental stress that will spill over into your life outside the office, and a boss who may no longer have full confidence in your judgment and abilities.

How to Make Sound Decisions

As a Team Leader who wants to be known for your ability to come up with good, sound decisions will require your intuition and foresight. This means you need to consider all possible scenarios and options. Once you have reached a decision, the three keys that will drive the decision to success are your commitment to the decision, controlling the factors that can affect the decision, and constantly reviewing and challenging your decision while ready to make adjustments when necessary.

In more practical measures, here are some suggestions on how you can make sound decisions:

1) Take care of your physical and mental state. No person can consistently make good decisions if he lacks sleep, is hungry, tired, or stressed. Not taking care of your health is like playing a game of Russian roulette – you’ll never know if your next decision will cause you to err on the wrong side. Prioritise your health.

2) Make an effort to ask as many questions as possible and listen to the undercurrents of related conversations. You should get as much information from all sides in order to come up with a wise decision.

3) Understand your decision-making style. According to the author of Yes or No: How Your Everyday Decisions Will Forever Change Your Life, Jeffrey Shinabarger, there are 7 styles of decision-making:

i. Gut reaction – “I just know” or “This is what I feel is the right decision to make” are two examples of a decision based on instinct and emotion. People who decide using this style are usually emotional, quick to decide, confident, and are less concerned with risks.

ii. Making lists – This is a methodical style of coming to a decision. A person with this style likes to consider the negative and positive angles. They are usually organised, like to plan ahead, and cannot be rushed to make a decision and feel good about it.

iii. As a Group – Collectively coming to a decision is a difficult style because it invites criticism and dissent which could delay the decision or confuse the issue. However, this style is effective in certain situations and can be used as a training ground for new leaders and managers.

iv. Guided Spiritually – A firm belief in a higher being is necessary for this style. It requires prayer, retreat, and patience since a decision will only be made if the person feels he has heard from God.

v. Hard data – This style demands logic, hard data, and as much information as possible from all sources.

vi. Narrating a Story – People with this decision-making style like to create a story so their decisions are almost always based on what and how they can narrate the events that come after the decision has been handed down.

vii. Passive and Undecided – These are those who go along with the majority or the stronger voice. They do not like confrontations or having to speak in public.

You do not have to have just one style. In fact, it would be good to incorporate a little of all styles and choose to use them individually or collectively at the right time and situation.

4) Don’t live in the past but don’t forget it either. We can all learn from mistakes whether they are our mistakes or mistakes of others.

5) Forget about bad decisions. As a team leader, you should not allow yourself to be buried or permanently tagged by one mistake. If the people around you won’t forget about a wrong decision you made, consider moving elsewhere where you can start afresh.

6) If you have a habit of making poor decisions, then ask yourself if you:

  • Say yes (or no) to everything;
  • Are afraid to speak out so you ride out the pressure and wait for the decision to be made for you;
  • You make decisions based on what you think others want

Consider a short course or coaching on building your self-esteem and confidence, public speaking, and technical know-how.

7) Avoid making impulsive decisions. Sleep on it, talk to someone in authority, get a consensus, and take a walk. Sometimes, it helps to “change your scenery” so you can look at the situation from a different angle. Seeking advice from others is not a sign of weakness. It is a trait of a true leader.

8) Look beyond the decision. Have backup plans and strategies for the unexpected. It is always a good idea to make decisions with long-range effects in mind.

9) Make an effort to keep growing in your field. This builds confidence not just to make the right decisions but also to develop your training, experience, and knowledge.

10) See your decisions as benchmarks for the legacy you will leave behind so that you avoid rushed decisions.

If you are looking to develop your leadership and communication skills further and progress in your career, contact me for an initial free coaching call to see how I might support you.

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