“Indecision and delays are the parents of failure.”- George Canning, British premier, Apr-Aug 1827
I recently stumbled on a fascinating article titled the Anatomy of Military Incompetence. Its thrust is that failure to make any decision is almost as bad as making a poor decision.
Expressed mathematically, indecision = lousy decision.
The author supports this thesis with a whole platoon of hopeless war generals whose indecisiveness caused disaster, grief, and preventable deaths.
Comparing and contrasting what is worse between making a wrong decision and indecision, Maimonides (a medieval Jewish philosopher and codifier of Jewish law) asserts that the risk of a wrong decision is preferable to what he terms the “terror of indecision”.
Exploring the concept further, John McKee offers Yukio Hatoyama (Japan’s Prime Minister, 16 Sept 2009 – 8 June 2010) as a vivid example.
Hatoyama was a superstar politician who quickly lost the plot because of his indecisiveness. He had swept into power with the largest-ever majority in Japan’s recent history.
The son of a prominent and politically connected family, he made a career in politics. He held several important roles. With such a background, expectations were sky-high.
His quick and appalling end is one that McKee compares to a person who wins the lottery only to end up dead broke a few months later.
This premier did not fail because of wrong actions, no.
He broke the Universal Law of Leadership which demands making tough decisions timeously and leading the way forward.
Having come to power with big promises and statements, he created the impression that a new sheriff was coming to town.
Once he was tested and found wanting, he gained a reputation for being “a flip-flopper” on important issues and in no time was branded “indecisive”.
He won it, only to blow it.
Pondering about Hatoyama, his meteoric rise, winning by a majority and coming to power on the back of big promises and powerful statements that created expectations of nothing short of a seismic transformation, I cannot help but see his twin in our own President Dr Lazarus Chakwera.
President Chakwera has, in the past nine months or so, established an unenviable track record of flip-flopping on issues and has successfully built a hard-to-beat reputation for being indecisive.
I will cite some examples.
The first warning was his insistence that despite Covid19, his inauguration would be attended by thousands and would double as an Independence Day celebration at Bingu National Stadium.
He made a U-turn.
He then committed to announcing a Cabinet “no later than 6 July 2020”.
Ostensibly to “…subject the list to another battery of scrutiny to be doubly sure that we are offering Malawians a well-balanced team of high-performing servant leaders who will bring forth the fruits of our Tonse Philosophy…”; he had Malawians wait a little longer.
When the promised “well-balanced team of high-performing servant leaders” was finally announced, it was a disaster. The ensuing public disappointment and disapproval were palpable!
Following public uproar cum protest upon the announcement of what essentially turned out to be a family-affair and campaign founders appeasement cabinet, Chakwera pretended to give the Cabinet ministers five months to deliver or be fired.
That five months expired in December 2020.
During the State House Press Briefing of 29 March 2021, Malawians were informed that the Cabinet would be reshuffled by the end of March 2021.
Malawians are still waiting, reportedly because Chakwera needs more time to digest the assessment prepared by Vice President Saulos Chilima.
Folks, what do we have here?
Why should anyone take Chakwera at his word now and in future?
Since Chakwera is still around, we cannot just wish him and his indecisiveness away. For the sake of the nation, we must mitigate our woes by helping him in the hope of salvaging something yet.
Johanna Wise’s write-up “Leadership Flaws: Indecision Is A Bad Decision” is something Chakwera would do well to read.
Therein, the author offers tips on how indecisive prisoners like him can free themselves from the indecision prison holding him hostage.
The first logical step is committing to making decisions immediately and repenting the twin sins of seeking and finding pretexts to procrastinate.
General George Patton is a case authority in this regard: “a good solution applied with vigour now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later,” he says.
Secondly, the decision-maker must make binding deadlines and stick a deadline to each delayed decision. “In five months” should mean “in five months”; “end of March” should be “end of March”, etcetera.
The third trick is breaking big decisions into bite-sized pieces.
The fourth and most complex but arguably the most valuable is learning to only pursue high-impact goals. What does this entail?
- List and rank the most important goals for this term. Let’s say 20.
- Highlight the top five. Most leaders instinctively invest most resources on Goals 1-5 and less on Goals 6-20. This is okay but problematic where the goals have not been assigned “weights”. Id est, let’s say Goal No. 1 is worth 100x or 1000x more than Goal 6. In this case, it could be argued that Goals 6-20 are next to if not outright inconsequential and hence not worth any resources at all.
- Invest effort and resources in delivering the high-impact Goals 1-5 so well that no one or very few people can complain that low-impact Goals 6-20 have not been achieved.
Should failure happen, Chakwera can learn from Thomas Edison. Describing his 10,000 failed experiments when inventing the incandescent lightbulb, Edison said:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work!”
His argument was: what makes more sense between trying 10,000 methods and learning along the way, OR sitting “phwii”, worrying or just talking and talking while playing to the gallery?
The answer is obvious: Action. Analysis. Adjust. Then, back to Action and more action.
Still, on the fear of failure, true leaders should, in fact, never allow fear to daunt them.
Was it not Nelson Mandela who said: I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it and that a brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear?
Further, President Chakwera should never forget that indecision is a virus that, when allowed to thrive, wrecks untold havoc, and as one David Joseph Schwartz put it: while action cures fear, indecision and postponement fertilize it.
As per our opening quote, indecision and delays are the parents of failure. If President Chakwera insists on failing, let him go someplace else to fail because here in Malawi, we have no room, not even a square foot, for yet another leadership failure!