Is Decision-Making a Dying Senior Leadership Competency?

Is decision-making a dying art and a disappearing leadership competency?

During recent business trips to Kuala Lumpur and Dubai, I had the opportunity to view the film Too Big to Fail. I was disturbed by the examples of poor decision-making and judgement that were highlighted. (If you haven’t seen the film, it’s well worth watching.) At the heart of the 2008 financial meltdown was a serious of delayed and extremely poor decisions by leaders for major international corporations and financial institutions. Automotive industry CEOs also displayed extremely poor judgement and decision-making during that time.

These were well paid executives who are supposed to know better. Yet there behaviour is what one would expect from the tin man in the Wizard of Oz who just couldn’t make up his mind.

Strong Language Alert:

How does this poor decision-making show up in corporations on a day-to-day basis?


Scenario: A Canadian company sent out a bid for a major equipment acquisition. The process dragged on for months. Eventually, they decided to stick with the equipment they have despite its shortcomings. A lot of time and money was wasted.

Scenario: A CEO from a European company decided to reward his sales team with incentive travel. RFPs were sent out to 3 companies with a tight deadline. The companies scrambled to meet the deadline. Nothing happened. Follow up calls revealed that the CEO was on leave for 3 weeks. When he returned, the specs were changed and the companies again scrambled to meet the deadlines for submitting RFPs. Same story, nothing happened. After months of follow-up, the firms that submitted the proposals just give up. They were never informed of a decision.

Scenario: A CEO from an American company dispatched 2 members of her team for site inspections and previews to help plan an upcoming internal conference in Dubai. The team requested previews in the desert including a luxury dinner set-up. This was cancelled at the last-minute and hefty cancellations charges were  paid when the CEO was adamant about the fact that, other than a spending a couple of hours in the desert for a short business simulation, anything to do with the desert was too “touristy”. As a consequence, the team refused to entertain any suggestions for site visits to desert resorts, restaurants or Bedouin camps.

The CEO changed her mind towards the end of the fam trip and instructed her team to arrange a lunch in the desert just before the simulation.

The team requested quotes for a “build” in the desert to create facades resembling an oasis town and upgraded seating. After weeks of work including graphic renderings, the CEO booked a desert dinner with another company. No one was informed until well into the process when a lot of money had been spent for graphical treatments and a lot of time wasted.

On the day of the team building, the CEO changed her mind again and cancelled the desert dinner indicating she was in the mood for Italian food for dinner that night. Wasted money, wasted time and a lot of scrambling and re-work were involved. It was hard to understand why this was necessary.

These are just a few of many similar examples that I could provide.

Athletes and their coaches have playbooks and they regularly review game tapes to improve their calls. Film producers and directors have storyboards and they review rushes every day to see if they are on track. Airline crews have crew briefings before every flight and detailed guidelines for performing every role. Yet some executives just wing it and label members of their team who question their late, flawed and constantly changing decisions as “inflexible” or “not a team player”.

  • Why do companies seem to have so much difficulty making decisions these days?
  • Why do some CEOs put their teams and suppliers through weeks of work that is then scrapped?
  • Is decision-making a dying leadership competency? Is so why and what can be done about it?
  • What is behind some of the poor judgement that is showing up in executive suites?

Perspectives from CEOs, suppliers and consultants would be greatly appreciated. In the meantime, here are some helpful resources to improve executive decision-making.

Photo Credit: Tim Ellis


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