How to shift from directive leadership to decisive leadership

How to shift from directive leadership to decisive leadership

Making decisions is an art. Making them fast, with grace – style even – is something that leaders everywhere aspire to achieve.

We all have an image in our minds about a strong, charismatic leader who makes decisions off the side of their desk, solving problems in an instant. I want to challenge that idea.

After coaching close to a hundred leaders on, probably, thousands of leadership problems, there are a few things that have become abundantly clear.

1. Making decisions alone is short-sighted and reactive.

First of all, two heads are always better than one. ALWAYS.

And more to the point, the more people you engage and the points of view you hear, the more solid and well-rounded your decisions will be. Not to mention the ripple effects on morale for engaging your team and including them in important decisions.

Let’s be clear – the decision and the accountability should rest with one — but hearing those other points of view will make the decision better.

It’s strategic. It’s playing the long game.

2. The decisiveness that made you a good leader early in your career won’t make you a good senior leader.

Early in my career, I rose very quickly because I was decisive. I was goal focused and could make tough decisions and get things going where others might waffle or avoid risk. However, as I rose in my organization, I started to feel more and more unappreciated for my decisiveness.

I eventually realized I was overusing my strength. I was deciding things too easily and too quickly without hearing the concerns of my colleagues, staff and/or clients. I wasn’t engaging people before making decisions. And so, my fine quality of “decisive” had turned into “bull in a china shop” before I even realized it.

I had to shift my approach to include those around me as much as possible.

3. Decisive Leadership is different than directive leadership

There is a crucial distinction between a leader who makes fast decisions as a lone wolf and one who is skilled in helping the team arrive at quick decisions (and quick decisions that aren’t rash ones).

Telling the team what is happening vs reaching a conclusion with them are wildly different leadership approaches and guess which one tends to foster the highest employee satisfaction, team cohesiveness, and productivity?

Exactly – making final decisions AFTER you’ve engaged the team.

What, then, does this look like in practice?

It comes from ensuring that the organization’s values and vision are aligned and that the values and vision are communicated properly and practiced in day-to-day operations. With that foundation, every decision is approached from the point of view of what is best to serve the organizational vision.

Once you’re operating from a common place with a shared vision, decisions become a lot easier but there are still a few more things you need.


Communicating how you ultimately arrive at a decision not only helps staff feel involved and valued, it helps them to perhaps arrive more quickly at a decision themselves next time. They can learn from the parameters set, the angles considered, and the conclusion that was eventually achieved.

Room for Error

If staff feel as though there is a great personal risk to making decisions, they’ll be inclined to defer and delay decision making. If staff feel that there is room for error and that they can safely make a call and still be supported even if a better decision could have been made – they’ll be more likely to take initiative and responsibility providing a healthy distribution of decision-making among the team.

Post-decision communication

Discussing important decisions as they unfold and maintaining the value of transparency is very important but post-decision communication is also crucial. What decisions were made based on the information that the team had (and was that the best choice?). Is there anything you might do differently next time? Do you need formal policies or learnings implemented as a result?

Coach’s Question: When might you be able to more engage your team in decision-making? What would stop you from providing transparency on your decisions?