Decision-making is an essential leadership competency, and yet leaders often agonise over a decision, over-complicating it or seeking the ‘perfect’ solution.

Jeff Stibel*, brain scientist and corporate leader, suggests that, ‘To be frozen by information is perhaps the single biggest risk of knowledge’. In this complex and interconnected world, we may never have all the information.

So how can you support a leader to relax their need for detail and free up cognitive capacity for big-picture thinking?

Try asking them to: 

  1. List the tasks they do regularly. Rank them in order of the need for high to low quality/thoroughness. Record the amount of time they typically spend on these tasks. How could they cut these times in half? (Treat it as a game.)
  2. Speak to a colleague who makes decisions without the need for detail, and learn how they do it.
  3. Assume they have all the detail they need already: what decision would they then make?
  4. Determine the level of quality required in advance, before spending too much time on a task.
  5. If they feel lost in the detail, zoom out and look for the major patterns or principles. Suggest they ask themselves: what is the purpose of this activity? Then focus on it.
  6. Imagine (and they may not need to imagine!) that their quest for detail was creating a reputation for blocking progress. Use this to inspire faster action.
  7. Reflect on the negative consequences of continuing to delay making decisions as they seek more information. Act now to mitigate these consequences.
  8. Consider the upside of taking a risk, and make a decision without the detail they think they need.
  9. Determine the assumptions they could make that would allow a decision right away. State the assumptions, decide, and move on.

Don’t let decisions (and productivity) be destroyed by over-analysis. Help your leaders let go of an over-reliance on detail, starting today. 


Note: This blog is based on my latest book, Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders. Get the book to learn how to support leaders who suffer from Analysis Paralysis, as well as 11 other leadership derailers.


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