Bad Boss BS “I’ve made up my mind”
How do you support a boss who has an ineffective approach to decision-making?
Decisions are the bread and butter of bossing. Bosses are supposed to make decisions, set direction and hold people accountable. But bad bosses sometimes have a difficult relationship with decisions. So what are the mistakes bad bosses can make when it comes to decision making?
Rigid ruler — “I’ve made up my mind”
A bad boss, in fact any decision maker can fall into the trap of thinking that changing their mind is a sign of weakness. Bosses are supposed to have the answers. They’re supposed to know what to do. Or so the logic goes with some “rigid rulers,” and once they’ve made up their mind they’re reluctant to change it, even when new information comes along.
There can be different reasons for this. It might be because of their “definition” of their role and perception of strength. Or they might have fallen into the trap of “first-instinct fallacy” which encourages us to trust our gut and initial direction. Bosses are especially prone to this. They’ve probably had some success in the past to get their current role. And human brains have evolved to be lazy in some situations. We’re almost hard-wired to trust things that have worked in the past. A boss, divorced from day-to-day detail might miss the fact that circumstances have changed and made their previous judgements ineffective.
The fact that the world is so volatile and changeable might give us a clue as to how to help the rigid ruler. Bosses can fall pray to ‘first instinct fallacy.’ Or ‘sunk cost fallacy’ which sees us continue to pursue failing strategies due a reluctance to walk away from wasted resource. Or bosses can associate changing course with weakness. But regardless of the reason, focusing on changes in the environment can help. They can provide the misdirection to convince the rigid ruler (and their peers) that an altered course is a brand new decision, rather than changing an old one.
Decision dodger — “I just need 5 more days…”
The decision dodger is different. They’re pre-disposed to avoid decisions. They might invent dependencies which don’t really exist. Or put hurdles in the way of the decision-making process –like requiring impossible levels of information before they’re willing to make a call.
Like other bad boss behaviours, decision dodging might be the result of nervousness and fear of making a mistake. So your strategy in helping this type of bad boss could focus on that confidence. If it’s emotional fear, try finding allies to share the weight of responsibility and reassure the boss. If it’s intellectual anxiety, find data that can reassure — but try to avoid putting them into a state of analysis paralysis. You could try a more risky, manipulative tactic and make the inaction of avoiding the decision look like the riskier option. Sometimes delay is more deadly than making the wrong call. You can always learn from making a mistake. But delaying decision-making in moments of danger can be deadly. Could this provide the motivation to move?
Bosses can be paralysed by too much information or too many choices. So being careful in the way we communicate the options can help. Don’t be afraid to filter recommendations to make it easier to make a call. Sometimes after getting into the details we want to show our working — either through diligence or because we’re passionate about what we’ve discovered. But bosses sometimes need to narrow options and focus. So when you’re communicating with them, tell them what you’re sure they need to know to make an informed decision. Keep the rest on hold and share only if its needed.
Supporting decision makers
Making decisions is something bosses should be able to do. But decision-making can be hard and tiring. Decision fatigue describes the tendency for decision-making to become harder the more decisions we’re asked to make. This can be the daily reality for bosses — decisions stack up, back-to-back. So if you’re aware of multiple decisions stacking up for a boss, consider how you might help them by prioritising how you schedule what you ask for.
Considering decision fatigue will help get you a better quality answer. People suffering from decision fatigue make worse decisions. They’re more likely to rely on biases and narrow the things they consider and so miss opportunities and trade off. Other fatigued decision makers become decision dodgers — desperate for a respite. So being aware of what else is going on for the boss will help you get the best decision. Using the old ‘head, heart, hands’ approach can also help you to help a boss who is finding decision making difficult.
Head — what do they need to know to be able to make a decision. This might be different from what they think they need to know, so feel empowered to point out where you think the threshold is. If they’re still proving reluctant ask, “what information do we need to be able to make this decision?”
Heart — don’t discount the emotional burden that decision making can bring. How does the boss need to feel to make a decision? How can you reassure and empower the boss to make the call?
Hands — does the boss have everything they need to make the decision? What practical barriers could stand in their way? Remove them.
There are other type of bad boss behaviours associated with decision-making. Decision deniers change their mind and then deny it. But I’ve decided to write about that type of bad bossing tomorrow.