Brandt On Leadership -- Overcome By Indecision

May 20, 2005
Gun-shy? You may be an EDD sufferer.

Yet another medical problem is sweeping the boardrooms and executive suites of this great nation. Cloaked in shame, this problem is draining the profits of corporations of every size as afflicted CEOs and managers hide behind their desks, afraid to tell colleagues -- or even their spouses -- about the embarrassing problem that prevents the full performance of their duties.

I am speaking, of course, about EDD -- Executive Decision Dysfunction.

Executives with EDD find it difficult to make even the slightest decisions without convening endless meetings with subordinates or commissioning never-ending series of study reports on the topic at hand. Yet the opinions, input, spreadsheets and analyses these executives receive -- instead of helping them to overcome their EDD and reach satisfying conclusions -- instead cloud their thinking even more, forcing them to agonize for days and nights over whether to approve the new carpet for the Bismark office. Too ashamed to ask for help, these executives often are reduced to managerial hermits, afraid to leave their offices for fear that they'll be forced to choose regular or decaf, jelly or glazed.

No one knows why EDD suddenly is so pervasive in corporate America. Some put it down to a misguided understanding of empowerment strategies, in which executives confuse employee engagement with employee democracy. These "Nice Guy" managers don't so much delegate as abdicate, announcing in every meeting that "the group should decide." Mr. Nice Guy's hope, of course, is that by not making decisions himself, he won't disappoint anyone, and will therefore be loved (and untroubled) by everyone. Unfortunately, as ceaseless bickering makes decision-making impossible, the one blamed and despised for the company's disorder (and for his do-nothing salary) is Mr. Nice Guy.

Other experts believe that the EDD pandemic correlates with recent waves of downsizing, in which people who had been seen to make wrong decisions -- or any decisions at all -- find themselves not only visible but vulnerable. Looking for heads to lop off, senior management finds those most likely to be rivals -- e.g., those without EDD -- and sends them off to successful careers elsewhere.

Still others believe the explanation for widespread EDD is simpler yet: Our permissive, politically correct culture has somehow fostered an entire generation of namby-pambies scared of having opinions or making mistakes that might displease The Boss (or, if you're a Freudian, Mommy or Daddy). Ninnies and wussies, these pundits proclaim, have no business in management.

Whatever its cause, the good news about EDD is that there are several treatment options, although each has its limitations. The only drug approved for the syndrome -- indecisionafil, trade name Deagra -- works well but causes unpleasant side effects including rapid-fire decision-making that can last for up to four hours, making the executive seem like an auctioneer on cocaine. At the same time, the sheer number of effective recent books on EDD -- all with titles like Crucial Confrontations or Confronting Reality or Shut Up, Stop Whining, and Get A Life (I am not making these up) -- can throw a sufferer into a full-blown seizure of decision paralysis over which book to buy. And while aggressive interpersonal therapy -- e.g., being yelled at by The Boss for dithering away a sales opportunity -- often produces startling short-term results, its long-term effects can be just the opposite, as the yellee avoids not only The Boss, but opportunity itself. In short, if you or someone you report to suffers from EDD, there's more than one way to overcome this problem.

All you have to do is decide.

John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is CEO of the Manufacturing Performance Institute, a research and consulting firm based in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

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