One of the primary responsibilities of a leader is making decisions. Wise judgment and effective decision-making are essential skills to leadership at all levels. Yet, I am always surprised when I encounter a leader who, when faced with a decision, either cannot commit, agonizes over choices, or is stuck in an endless cycle of over-researching and seeking input from everyone.
Indecisive leaders remind me of the popular quote from an unknown author that my friend Buddie Barnes shared with me: “Be decisive. Right or wrong, make a decision. The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who could not make a decision.”
What kind of squirrel are you?
If your answer is anything except #1, then you are likely to find yourself smashed into the pavement next to the flat squirrel.
One of our companies’ core values is Leading by Taking Action. This builds credibility and reinforces the perceptions by our employees, vendors, and clients that we are strong, determined decision makers. We expect our leaders to make quick, well-considered decisions that are supported by reason, personal experience, and good old-fashioned gut instinct.
It comes down to this, an action cannot happen without first making a decision. If you want to be the squirrel who lives to cross the road another day, remember that action produces results.
Timing is Everything
Taking as much time as possible can sometimes feel like an advantage. The more time invested, the more informed the decision, right? Wrong! That is a tough lesson I learned when I was a young man.
Hesitation kept me from winning the biggest wrestling match I would ever enter. I made it to the state wrestling competition in my senior year of high school. After winning my first two matches decisively to keep my record at 29-0, I was warming up to compete in the finals. Standing next to me was the guy I had just pounded the day before in the semi-finals, and we struck up a conversation. He told me he had beaten my next opponent in the regular season 9-0, so he was confident I was going to kill the guy.
That brief conversation completely changed my approach. My internal monologue switched from, Just go out and beat him, to Don’t take any chances and you will be the first person in history to win a state wrestling championship for Waterford High School.
The match started and I had him in a wizard, which was an arm bar lock where I had the upper hand. All I had to do was roll over on my back, flip him over top of me, and put him on his back to win the match. However, my state of mind was Do not take any chances and you will win.
As a result, I did not make the move that I had pulled off many times before. Worried I would slip up, I erred on the side of caution with my decisions while my opponent made his own moves. Suddenly I found myself wrestling from behind for the first time all year. Making matters worse, I hesitated to make more aggressive moves in an attempt to take the sure victory.
Ultimately, I lost that match. Afterward, my coach asked me why I did not make the moves I had been making all year. I just looked at him in a daze wondering how I lost. I have reflected on that day countless times. All I had to do was make the decision and I could have won. But I hesitated and he flattened me like a squirrel.
That lesson has served me well over the past four decades in business. I understand that like my wrestling opponent, my customers, suppliers, subcontractors, and my competition are quick to take advantage of delayed decisions and hesitation. I would go as far as to say that a slow decision is not much better than no decision. When you succumb to hesitation, you expose yourself to a wide range of problems. You must develop the ability to make wise decisions fast rather than wallowing in thought.
Recently, Luke Keiderling, president of Lang Masonry, said that the General Contractors (GC) are using recent college graduates for Project Managers (PM) these days because they cannot find enough seasoned leaders. These PMs are book smart but not experienced in the actual building process. Therefore, our Superintendents (SI) have to help them make decisions, or both of us will get smashed like the squirrel trying to cross the road.
Luke explained how we were told that we would have to pull off a project so the steel erector could swing the steel above the area where our crew was working. Our SI politely explained to the PM that the steel erector needs to move the location of the crane so they could swing the steel the other direction. He agreed, the crane was moved, and it kept both the steel workers and our crew working at the same time. This saved us from having to pull 12 people off the jobsite, which would have been very costly to our company. Our SI’s suggestion also would allow the project to be completed a few days earlier.
So, how do you know when it is the right time to make a decision? From my perspective, unless it is a situation where you would have to compromise safety or ethics, most decisions can be made once you have 80% of the information. I am not suggesting that you make a rash decision; that is not the same thing.
Former NFL head coach Bill Parcells once said, “A quick decision that turns out to be a bad one is less costly than a slow decision that turns out to be a good one because you can fix the bad one faster.”
Our company has never had to tear down a wall we never built. On the other hand, we do not get to bill for our work unless we build the wall. The lesser of the two evils is to find a way to build the wall as soon as possible so we can bill for our work.
If you act quickly while leaning on your experience, knowledge, and instincts, you increase your chances of long-term success. This does not guarantee every decision will be right. Obviously, you will win some and you will lose some. But even when your decision turns out to be wrong, you have garnered experience which will improve your gut’s accuracy for the future.
Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Buckeye Construction and Restoration, 3 PLS Labor Services, Malta Dynamics Fall Protection and Safety Company, and EZG Manufacturing.
To view the products and equipment his companies created to make job sites safer and more efficient, visit his websites at ezgmfg.com or maltadynamics.com.