At a recent gathering of small / mid-sized business owners, we discussed a concept from Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Five Temptations of a CEO”. I highly recommend his books and “The Five Temptations” is particularly good for the leader of an organization who might be looking to increase his or her effectiveness.

The third “Temptation” is “choosing certainty over clarity”. The way I understand what Patrick is saying, CEOs that are succumbing to this temptation have a hard time bringing themselves and/or their organization to a decision in a timely manner. He suggests that you may be choosing certainty over clarity if you answer yes to one or more of the following questions:

  • Do you pride yourself on being intellectually precise?
  • Do you prefer to wait for more information rather than making a decision without all the facts?
  • Do you enjoy debating details while in a decision-making process?

The group began with a brief discussion of what we see as the traits of a successful entrepreneur:

  • Analytical
  • Aware of his or her limitations (there was quite a discussion on this)
  • Charismatic, likeable (and like being likeable)
  • Creative, visionary
  • Highly intellectually capable
  • In charge, driven
  • Makes considered decisions
  • Not lacking in ego or confidence
  • Persuasive

We did come to a consensus that the traits of a successful entrepreneur could easily lead him or her to choosing certainty over clarity. Other causes could include fear of failure, or more likely, fear of making less than the “best” decision. We agreed that lack of financial strength could add significantly to the leader’s desire for more certainty.

The meat of our discussion focused on the risks and rewards of choosing certainty over clarity. There seemed to be a general agreement that moving forward upon reaching clarity was preferable to waiting for certainty in the decision-making or similar processes of running a business.

Awaiting certainty can be limiting in terms of the capacity of the individual or organization to create progress. Valuable time is lost in seeking certainty; it has been said that in the research process, 80% of knowledge is gathered during the initial 20% of the time invested. Of course the problem is, it’s hard to know when you have reached clarity or gotten to that 80% of the knowledge target in 20% of the time. I think, in hindsight we can all see when we have invested more time and research than necessary.

On a positive note, the closer to certainty the individual and organization gets, the more likely the buy-in of everyone in the organization.

Another significant nugget of the conversation was the concept that after making a decision or deciding on a course of action the organization shouldn’t stop asking questions and gathering information. It’s often necessary to rethink your decision given additional information and clarity.

There was a question raised about accountability. What are the ramifications of making a less than fully successful decision in your organization? Are your employees rewarded for taking risk that doesn’t pay off? …or do they receive negative feedback? It seemed to the group that the leader of the organization as well as his or her employees needs to feel the freedom to make a carefully considered and rational mistake. In addition most people need to be encouraged to overcome the desire to make the “best” decision.

The general conclusion: It is the leader’s responsibility to recognize when enough clarity has been gained and promptly step up and make the decision. We agreed that the leader needs to put his or her concern for image and ego aside, take a risk and make a timely decision. In the vast majority of instances the business will be positively rewarded.

How does it work in your organization? How do you strike the balance between making a solid decision in a timely manner as opposed to making the best decision after too much time has elapsed?