Non-decisions are decisions. Decisions to do nothing.
One can think of three types of non-decisions:
1. A lack of information non-decision
It’s a decision you don’t make because you are waiting for more information. It’s rarely clear when you have enough information to move forward, so your entire world becomes an exercise in waiting for Godot (and we all know Godot never shows up).
2. A tactical non-decision
It’s a non-decision based on the hope that time is on your side.
It’s a hope that the more you delay the more conditions will shift in such a way that your position will be enhanced and your decision will become more clear.
In a negotiation setting this is a situation where you hope your position will enhance over time and the other party’s position will diminish.
Well, life is full of surprises and sometimes the reverse might happen.
3. A cowardly non-decision
It’s based on a belief that rocking a situation will only endanger your position. For example: you don’t want to make a decision because it exposes you to attack. It may bring down the wrath of criticism on you. It may weaken you.
There’s a certain narrowness here. The best examples of cowardly non-decisions happen in the political sphere. We need only turn to politicians who are scared to move, lest they alienate their supporters.
Non-Decisions & the Real World
If you look at the Middle East you realize that it is an arena of non-decisions where drift, delay, and verbal procrastination are packaged as negotiations.
If you look at the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu you realize he is a master of non-decisions. Political positions aside, you can appreciate his skills of delay.
The question, however, is: at what point do non-decisions become detrimental?
They become detrimental when they are used as self-serving acts of delay rather than parts of an overall strategy.
At this point non-decisions become the act of a politician—not a leader.
It becomes problematic when a politician decides to make a non-decision, hides it, and makes believe to have made a decision.
Leaders have the right to make non-decisions, but they should call them what they are: a decision not to make a decision now.
This non-decision phenomenon occurs in organizational settings all the time. Leader’s inevitability delay issues, dance around problems, and try to kill time, because they’re not quite sure how to cover all their bases at a particular moment. So they take certain classic actions. They constantly go back to square one. They constantly redefine what’s going on. They constantly discuss processes instead of focusing on output. They constantly review intent and they’re perpetually engaged in research and information gathering.
I’m reminded of a marketing director who was hesitant to launch a new product. He feared that it might fail and kill off his department. The more the delay occurred—the weaker and weaker he became within his organization. The more he hesitated, the more myopic and self-interested he emerged.
The reason for this was simple. He constantly made believe that he was just about to make a decision and in that process, over time, he lost whatever legitimacy he had.
Similarly, leaders should avoid cowardly non-decisions–otherwise they will appear to be myopic politicians.