3 Questions to Break Decision-Making Paralysis

Personal and business leadership requires the ability to make decisions. But decisions can be difficult to make. Some of them so much so that they keep us awake at night, limit our ability to concentrate (or even notice) other issues/people around us, and in more severe cases, the whole process can lead to declining health.


The businessman -  bankrupt

Theodore Roosevelt suggested that, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Being paralyzed at the crossroads of decision is a difficult place to be – the place of having options, but not being sure how they will work out. Possibly more difficult is the place of misguided thinking – where the options we think we have are not real. What a relief when we come to a place of clarity, even when that clarity is death to a dream. “Yes” and “no” are both clear – it is “maybe” that causes us the most grief.

During one of my posts as a turnaround CEO, I remember being in such a situation. I had worked through all the options I could think of to create a path to survival for the company. The more that I studied, the fewer the options that remained, until I was sure that there was really only one course of action to take: to make a significant investment in a new piece of equipment which would tie up almost all of the remaining capital available to the company.

I sat at my desk with the phone before me, trying to muster the courage to act. As my hand hovered over the receiver, I was struck by a thought that made me begin to chuckle out loud: “I am already dead.”

If I did nothing, the end was as inevitable. The status quo may have seemed liked an option, but it really was no option at all. I could hold on to the last of our capital and we could die a slow death, or I could take a chance at the best option I could think of and have at least a small chance at life. Being stuck in the place of indecision was no option at all.

The 12th century Jewish philosopher Maimonides suggested that, “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”

In the end I did go ahead with the decision to purchase the equipment. It took a significant level of persistence (faith?) to install it and to train the employees to use it, but the end result was one of the most successful product launches one of our major customers had been involved with.

If you are currently wrestling with a decision, here are three questions you can ask to help break decision-making paralysis:

1. How long? How long has the problem been in existence? When you look back, how long has the situation been developing? When you look ahead does the negative pattern you are experiencing hold any sign of promise for change? If not, why are you holding on? There are seasons in life (and I believe that dormancy is one of them) but seasons change, and so must you.

2. Which factor? Is it fear of the unknown that is causing the paralysis? What steps can you take to move beyond maybe to yes or no? Decisions get easier to make when you have the right information. Don’t fall into paralysis by analysis here; there is a required blend of factors – experience, knowledge, intuition and courage – in every decision. Which one is most lacking? Who can be a resource to help you with what you most lack?

3. What hope? Have you come to the place of resignation? Sometimes a deeper look at decision-making paralysis reveals a heart that has given up. This may have started out as the terror of indecision, which steadily eroded to hopelessness. Any chance is better than the self-imposed defeat of quitting. The human spirit must always be the foundation of corporate resilience.

If your leadership resilience could do with expansion – if you need an objective perspective, experience, knowledge, intuition or a boost to courage to get you past a current decision-making challenge (and whatever you have tried before has not worked), contact me at david@davidewhite.ca for more information on coaching services.