Everyday Matters: In praise of decisiveness

This article first appeared in Forum, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on June 17, 2019 - June 23, 2019.
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“In any moment of decision, the best thing to do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” — Theodore Roosevelt, 26th American president (1858 to 1919)

Decisions. The ability to make a good decision is a basic element that dictates the quality of a leader. To be able to come to a decision regarding controversial, sometimes divisive, issues is a quality, dare I say, courage, not many leaders possess. But in the light of our dynamic, ever-changing world, concrete decisions must be made and actions must be taken.

Being decisive means taking the risk that we may be wrong, but knowing that perfect clarity will not be available and that indecisions can be costly. Something must be done. And quickly. It also means taking responsibility for the outcome of the decision.

Being decisive is a weighty responsibility and a worthy leadership trait. Our current prime minister has, in recent days, shown us that if there is one thing he cannot be accused of, it is indecisiveness.

A lot has been written and said about the appropriateness of placing a political personality as the head of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC). There have been arguments and counter-arguments as to who can best fill that hot seat. The government needed a scandal-free, untainted individual there and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, using his prime ministerial prerogative, chose Latheefah Koya for the job. There, a conclusive decision has been made.

The government has made it clear that it wants to rid the nation of the stigma of corruption and abject abuse of positions when it came to power last year. It also made it clear that to regain public trust, it needed to quickly relook and revamp the civil service and the legal and judiciary wings. What better way to show that intent by promoting clean, scandal-free individuals to lead the units that are at the forefront of the fight? To put worthy individuals in these positions against a chorus of criticism by people who probably have something to hide is the epitome of decisiveness.

The noun decisiveness has two senses: one, the trait of resoluteness as evidenced by firmness of character or purpose; and two, the quality of being final or definitely settled.

Decisive leaders are not afraid of being wrong. Mahathir is the epitome of resoluteness. He acts on the gravity of a situation where being indecisive or following the voices around him may prove costly to a collective objective. Leaders like him, therefore, step up to the plate and decide, once and for all. The popularity of their decision is not a consideration here; the solution to the problem is.

Many leaders make popular decisions. Their mistake is that they try to please everyone. The reason is simple — they want to be popular. And when they seek popularity, they stop being authentic leaders. When leaders mask authenticity, they start creating suffocating environments. People might respect them by virtue of their position, but they do not respect them from their heart.

Effective leaders make decisions that are best for their organisations. And these decisions will automatically become the best for the people. However, one element is crucial here — the leadership intent behind the decision. In this case, I posit that gaining the trust of the public for the civil service to work more efficiently is paramount.

Indecisive leaders drive people crazy. They lack firmness and a sense of purpose. We hear the lament, “My boss won’t make a decision!”, more frequently now. Being on the fence leads to no final results or outcomes — and that is bad for the future of any enterprise.

So, how does one become a decisive leader? There is no cookie-cutter template to answer that question. However, the following suggestions might help:

• Claim your role as a competent, credible and trustworthy leader. This is fundamental to establishing yourself as a decisive leader, which is what employees look for in a supervisor or manager. Demonstrating your expertise, as well as building employees’ confidence in your abilities and qualifications, will result in your decisions being better-received than that of a leader whose position is not respected by those who report directly to him or her. Being credible and trustworthy means that you follow through on actions and follow up your interaction with employees as promised.

• Exercise sound judgment. Good decision-making skills are based on your leadership skills and your ability to exercise sound judgment in the performance of your job. Sound judgment entails reserving your conclusions until you have sufficient facts and not making snap judgments without solid information. Prudence also means you conduct your own research instead of relying on others’ statements to resolve workplace issues

• Make choices based on your level of authority, experience and functional knowledge. Show respect for your employees’ input, but refrain from using employees’ input to make decisions for you.

In the end it does not matter what leaders do or say if people do not respect them. Being liked is nice; being respected is essential. Respect is about character and relationship and is also about the decisions one makes. To paraphrase an American president, let us decide and Make Malaysia Great Again.


Zakie Shariff is managing partner of Kuber Venture Bhd, a specialist investment company. He is also a director of Universiti Malaysia Pahang.

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