Perfect decisions can only be made when you have perfect information. You can make the ideal decision when you have all the details and all the bases covered. The problem is that you never have perfect information. The core of leadership and entrepreneurship can be defined as having the courage to make a decision when in fact you may not have all the necessary information. Making an imperfect decision is a sign of leadership. Making a perfect decision - with all the necessary information available - is a case of doing the obvious.

Decision theorists speak of "bounded rationality" - the notion that no matter how you experience something or how complete your knowledge, there will always be gaps. There will be things that you don't know, or perceptions that you may have that don't quite match up with the reality of the situation.

Think for a moment of the marriage proposition. What you don't do is survey all the possible, options. Dating behavior is a case of going through one option at a time, and you reach a decision not on the basis of having complete information, but rather having what you consider enough information. How big of a net is really cast?

Leadership is about knowing how much more information is enough and having the courage to make a move. When you talk of reaching consensus, pursing more data, looking for more options, when you process things to death in the hope of gaining more perfect and complete information, you are just camouflaging your indecision.

What will inevitably happen is that in frustration, someone will push you to make a decision, when it is a clear you should have made your move long before. Making a move on the basis of "good" if not complete information rather than waiting to be pushed is a definitive sign of leadership. It is the ultimate profile in courage.

That said, more likely than not, you will spend your time procrastinating. By the time a decision is made, it is made because others have forced you to make it or because your own frustration has forced you to press the lever.

Here is a mundane example that is obvious to baby-boomers. While you need not retire immediately, when do you make your move? When do you make the decision to exit? The earlier the decision is made, the greater negotiation power you have. Yes - the earlier you make a decision, the better the deal you can create. You can put more on the table and come to a favorable compromise because you know that your power comes from making an early decision.

That said, the alternative is not to make an early decision, and wait for other factors to come into play, perhaps making the decision for you, even if you're not ready for it or don't like the results.

On a policy level, "leading from behind," is not about leaders who waffle in their decision-making, but is about leaders claiming that they need more information to get the lay of the land, when, in fact, they already know their options. They already well understand what needs to be done, but they don't have the mettle to make the move. Deep down, they think that delay buys them time, and possibly buys them more information, but this is rarely the case.

Think of your investment strategy. If you are totally risk averse and never make a move you'll never lead in the market. If you believe in high risk, you will likely take chances and win big, but also lose big. The trick is to gather enough information and not wait for the market herd.

Once you've been pushed to make a decision, you are no longer leading. You are following from behind, and from a weak power position.

Published on: Dec 1, 2015
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