Decisiveness is defined as being “characterized by firmness and decision.” Being decisive means that you have the ability to decide. From the strength of a decision you then have the ability to act. Leadership requires that you are able to make key decisions effectively. Decisiveness then simply means being the leader of your own life. Decisiveness is both a skill you can build and an internal state you can summon when you need it.
The virtue of decisiveness hasn’t received a lot of support lately. With world leaders refusing to admit mistakes when the evidence becomes overwhelming, their apparent decisiveness seems to be a fault. Others question whether decisiveness causes hasty decision making resulting in costly mistakes.
Decisiveness does not mean being stubborn, arrogant or hasty. Decisiveness is simply the ability to decide with speed and clarity. In any situation the ability to decide is crucial. Whether it is with an emergency room doctor or the high school graduate debating what to do with her life, without clear decisions there can be no action and no results. Inside your skull sits the most powerful processing unit in the known universe but without decision it goes unused.
The reason people aren’t decisive isn’t because that is an effective strategy for problem solving. Indecisive people act that way simply because they assume others will make better decisions for them. These people end up being subjected to the whims of others and have to rely on the thinking power of others to survive.
Decisiveness also means being able to make clear decisions quickly. In any decision you should decide a course of next action in only a few minutes, even if the decision is simply to do more research or brainstorming. Until you have made a clear decision though, you are simply procrastinating and wasting time. Few people decide what to eat for dinner in less than a minute, hardly the decision that begins the course of action to influence their entire life.
Being decisive is simply the most rational way to take on any problem. You observe the information you have available and then you decide what would be the most successful course of action. If it is possible to get more information, you decide how to get it. If you can’t get more data, you simply decide with the facts available.
Instead of being decisive, most people procrastinate. They don’t spend more time researching but simply avoid the decision entirely. Asking someone who is dissatisfied with his life what he plans to do about it, usually the response will be a confused stare. Without a decision no progress can be made.
Decisiveness in Uncertainty
Although it would be nice if we lived in a world where perfect information can be retrieved readily, being decisive ultimately means recognizing when you already have the best information you are going to get. At this point you simply need to make a decision with the faulty information at hand and move forward. Waiting longer is just delaying the inevitable, so you must decide even in the face of uncertainty.
The best decision is the best one you can make with the information available at the time. In Texas Hold’em poker, novice players might fold a hand that they later realize would have won. These players then believe they made a bad decision because unexpected cards came up. Professional players understand that whether you should have bet or folded doesn’t depend on the cards that came up but what the best decision was with the information you had at the start. Just because you win one hand with a 3 and a 9 doesn’t make this a good hand to bet on next time.
Even outside the casino you need to understand that almost all decisions will be based on incomplete information, and the best choice you can make is with the information you have. You can’t know for sure whether your business idea will fail or succeed, you can gather information to help you refine it and to understand the risks, but ultimately you need to make a decision. Certainty doesn’t exist in the world and only a fool will expect to find it.
Ready, Fire, Aim…
Ultimately the majority of decisions you face will not have huge repercussions for mistakes. Often you will face greater damages by making no decision at all then by making a bad one. Even if the decision was poor, that was simply the price necessary to gather more information and make a better decision next time.
Decisiveness is not the same as being stubborn. Stubborn people continue to make the same decision repeatedly even when initial evidence offers a better solution. A decisive person will learn from each decision so that the next one has a larger base of information and is more likely to be on target.
Decisiveness as a Skill
The ability to make firm decisions quickly is a skill that can be practiced. You can start by simply timing how long it takes you to make decisions. Minor decisions, such as what movie to see or restaurant to go to, should be made in thirty seconds to a minute. Major decisions should be made in less than five, even if that decision is to do more information gathering so that a decision of action can be made more effectively.
The next time you are deciding what to eat time yourself and only give a minute to answer. Once you get used to making decisions rapidly you will start to realize that clear, firm decision making often results in better decisions then ones where you stew around with the same information over and over again. Running in circles, indecision is usually procrastination not problem solving.
Decisiveness as an Emotion
Decisiveness is more than just a skill, it is a feeling. There must have been moments when you felt decisive. Certainly it felt different then when you were confused and unsure. Decisiveness is similar to a feeling of confidence, strength and assuredness.
Think back to a time when you felt particularly decisive. How did you hold yourself in that state. You probably stood tall with your head high and your breathing steady. Your movements were probably controlled and smooth. Your voice probably resonated and projected well, it likely wasn’t nasally and quiet. This physiology is critical to your feeling of decisiveness. Try stepping into that state and you will probably feel more able to make firm decisions.
You can feel decisive at any moment by triggering the same physiology and mental patterns of when you had felt decisive before. You can modify the mental patterns by timing your decisions and recognizing that you need to decide firmly and quickly. You can modify your physiology by adopting the body posture, breathing and speech of someone who is decisive.
Don’t look for certainty in the world before deciding to act. Don’t wait for others to make decisions for you. Operate from an internal source of strength and plan the right course of action. Be decisive and choose for yourself.