Rethinkers Are Stinkers
One member of my team called my ability to rethink decisions frustrating. It drove him nuts. I thought it was the pursuit of excellence. Now I know it’s dangerous.
Rethinkers lead sluggish organizations.
When leaders are great at rethinking, decisions aren’t final.
4 dangers of rethinking:
- Foot dragging when decisions are unpopular. Just wait. Things will change.
- Discussing without deciding. No one pulls the trigger today when you habitually rethink decisions tomorrow.
- Making firm decisions isn’t worth it. Why put yourself out there when nothing is final?
- Commitment to decisions comes slowly. No one dedicates energy to decisions that eventually change.
5 ways to deal with rethinkers:
- The decision didn’t go their way so they bring it up again. When this happens, ask if there is any new information to consider. If not, press forward.
- Bias toward forward movement makes some people reluctant to stop current activities. They say, “We need to stay the course.” Respond by acknowledging concerns and postpone the reconsideration. Be sure to follow up.
- Fear or uncertainty emerges after decisions are made. It felt good for awhile, but anxiety took over. This is a courage issue not a decision-making issue. Ask, “What will be different tomorrow?”
- A power-player feels left out, so they bring it up again. Include power-players in decisions.
- Silence in the meeting turns to dissent in the hall. Clarify the meaning of silence in meetings. Go beyond silence is consent. Silence is support. If you don’t speak up, you’re on board.
4 ways to know it’s time to rethink:
- New relevant information emerges.
- Circumstances change in substantive ways.
- The possibility of substantive improvement is real.
- Qualify “what if’s” and “what about’s” before rethinking decisions.
Improvement before movement is ineffective.
Make your best decision and take action. Successful leaders improve while taking action.
What types of rethinking have you encountered?
How might leaders deal with the problem of rethinking?
**This post is inspired by chapter 6 of “Simple Sabotage,” by Galford, Frisch, and Greene.
That is a good insight. Balanced rethinking works. But if everything is getting rethought it creates instability in the organization and can even make you feel that your leader isn’t ‘safe’.
Thanks Micah. Take it from a reformed rethinker. It’s not a good thing. 🙂
My Dad used to tell me that not making a decision was a decision. It’s better to make a decision, move on, and then respond to whatever that decision brought about to make the next decision.
Thanks Susan. Your dad was a smart dude.
With every inaction, there is an opportunity cost – what your lack of action has cost in dollars, leadership, market, etc… – so I would think there are opportunity costs for rethinking, too. Costs for changing direction, cancelling, rebuilding, redesigning, re-engaging. Those costs seem substantial indeed.
Thanks Katie. Love how you applied opportunity cost to this context. I’ll add the cost of wasted or lost morale as well.
The real value of experience is NOT in knowing how to proceed to areas a situation. Every situation should be considered to some degree – checking know information, identifying constraints and criteria, …. The real value of experience is understanding the need for such consideration AND, most importantly, knowing when to engage in addressing the situation. There are no rules to follow, only experience; the risk will be there.
But get on with it… Misinterpreted or changing information, criteria, etc. will be more obvious; and, yes, that’s the time for rethinking!!! It’s part of the problem-solving process just as much as reflections from regular self-assessment are.
When should you rethink for sure? After the situation has been addressed successfully!!! If the situation was associated with widgets, guess what? You are the widget person – if not within an organization, then in your mind for sure. Post-assess and reflect on the assessment outcomes. What could have been done different? What better questions should have been asked? Which facets were over-valued and which ones were under-valued? What timeline issues were missed? Etc., … Part of the experience vale building.
Get on with execution; don’t get stalled in rethinking plans…
Thanks John. Your insights are valuable. The idea that we “rethink” after the situation is addressed is powerful. Press forward.
You remind me of something Drucker wrote. (I don’t remember where) Effectiveness is more important than efficiency. In other words, get busy doing the right thing (effectiveness). You can work on efficiency as you go.
Working on efficiency before taking action isn’t very effective.
LOVE the last bit. There are times to re-think…but not many.
Thanks Rob. The leader who never rethinks ends up on a dead end, eventually. 🙂
Unnecessary rethinking is a major risk factor of successful projects. if the project leader can facilitate the right path between useful and harmful rethinking, they are already way ahead towards a successful result, that’s why I named my first Project Action Principle as “achieve outcomes, rapidly” sometimes just having the right operating cadence can help: moving the project swiftly (but not recklessly) pushes the team past the point of no return on decisions.
When I find myself rethinking a decision, it is usually a warning sign that there is a deeper problem, and I just don’t consciously know what it is.
If a peer seems to rethink habitually, then it’s a habit.
But if someone who is usually a mover and a shaker feels the need to rethink, pay attention to the person, not the specific concern.
Perhaps your teammate needs help to figure out why the decision deserves to be rethought. Maybe it’s just my personality type, but I find that most people want to make decisions unless they have underlying reservations, and sometimes those reservations aren’t on the surface – they need to be unearthed.
This is advice for leaders and teachers who want to help their followers or students learn as much as possible. In return, you’ll be surprised at how much YOU will learn.
Thanks for a great post 🙂
There is always a delicate balance between rethinking and pressing ahead. Too much rethinking can be very frustrating for our team members. One of the most common reasons I have seen for rethinking by leaders is fear of mistakes. Leaders must absolutely use all the information available to make the best decision possible, but in most cases we can never know absolutely everything.