Your do's and don'ts for dealing with an indecisive manager

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

An indecisive manager can put you in a tricky position. When does it become your own responsibility to take action? How can you do so without stepping on your manager's toes?

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Rebecca Knight shares an expert's suggestions for four things to do—and three things not to do—when dealing with your indecisive manager.

Do:

1. Find the root of the problem. There could be something going on in your manager's life that's making decisions difficult. Maybe your manager's manager doesn't react well to risk-taking—or maybe your manager is hesitant to act because your organization's culture isn't supportive. Whatever the reason, Knight writes that it's important to have empathy and recognize there might be more to your manager's stalling than an indecisive disposition alone.

2. Lend an ear. If you want your manager to make a decision, position yourself as a trusted confidant, suggests Sydney Finkelstein, director of the leadership center at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Allow your manager to vent and listen carefully to the pros and cons they suggest for each decision. Ask questions that could help your manager come to a conclusion.

3. Take initiative. If you know—or think you know—the conclusion your manager should come to, you have the power to approach him or her with your suggestion. But it's important to provide adequate reasoning to support your suggestion and to approach with humility and respect rather than authority, says Finkelstein.

4. Call for backup. If you're having difficulty nudging your manager to make a decision, Finkelstein suggests "forming a coalition" of people that might have influence over your manager and asking them for advice. If several people approach your manager with an idea for a course of action, he or she will be more likely to listen and take action.

When making important decisions, collaboration is key

Don't:

1. Overestimate the issue. Be careful not to misinterpret your manager's indecisiveness, warns Finkelstein. Failure to act quickly on one decision does not necessarily mean your manager is an indecisive person all around. There might be a reason you aren't aware of that your manager is waiting to act. Don't jump to conclusions.

2. Drown your manager in excessive data. Sending your manager information that you think will spur a conclusion is well-intentioned—but it's unlikely to help. A flood of information is more likely to be overwhelming rather than helpful, unless you clearly present the data to back up a conclusion you've already made.

3. Get confrontational. When approaching your manager about indecisiveness, be sure to establish a tone that emphasizes your shared goals. If you fail to frame your conversation with a "we're-in-this together" context, the conversation won't be constructive, says Finkelstein (Knight, Harvard Business Review, 3/24).

There's a right way to use data to support decisions


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