For the majority of the time I have been serving ministry, I have done so in the context of a military community near Marine Corps Base Quantico in Northern, Virginia. Quantico is where every Marine Corps officer receives fundamental training in leadership, which includes (among other things) the development of 14 key leadership traits – qualities such as unselfishness, courage, loyalty, integrity and endurance.
Out of all the leadership lessons I have learned from interacting with Marines, few have been as important as coming to appreciate the value of decisiveness in leadership. The Marine Corps describes decisiveness as “the ability to make decisions promptly and announce them in a clear, forceful manner.” The fundamental implication of this trait is that “it often is better that a decision be made promptly than a potentially better one be made at the expense of time.” The idea of decisiveness introduced to me for the first time that there actually are dangers in delaying a decision that can outweigh the benefits of waiting until you are 100% sure about what to do.
So, what are the dangers of indecisiveness in ministry leadership? When you are indecisive as a leader…
1. You yield influence to the wrong people
In every organization or group of people, you will find individuals who are oriented toward action and ready to make decisions when leadership will not. In the absence of prompt decision-making about important issues, the advantage goes to the person who is willing to stake out a position and give a reasonable explanation for it. Indecisive leaders often operate with the illusion that they can push pause on the action and provide leadership later, but more often than not someone is already exerting influence. For example, during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, leaders in our church had to make choices about how we would respond to local, state and federal government mandates. We made the choice to cooperate with the general guidelines of our state government and communicated the approach we would take to the church in a timely manner. We then set ourselves to work caring for our people and re-shaping our ministries to continue our mission of reaching our community with the gospel. While not everyone necessarily agreed with our approach, the leadership we provided allowed us to set the tone for how we would relate to one another and stay focused on our primary mission. We knew that if we didn’t do so in a timely manner, other voices and influences would grab the microphone. Since we were appointed to lead, we knew it was our responsibility to make some initial decisions.
2. You create an environment for disunity
Years ago, I sat in a church business meeting where someone had made a sizable donation to missions and the members of the church were discussing how it should be used. For what seemed like hours, every possibility was discussed, and the conversation devolved into a conflict about which missions efforts were more important. The blessing of additional resources was lost from view in a situation that lacked a strong idea in line with the church’s already stated goals. Scenes like this usually can be avoided when a clear plan is presented in line with the church’s already determined priorities. Often disunity flourishes alongside indecisive leadership.
3. You model an environment of fear, rather than faith
Often, leadership indecisiveness is rooted in fear. We can be indecisive because we fear the disagreement or criticism of others. We can be indecisive because we fear the possibility of being wrong. We can be indecisive because we fear being exposed as incompetent. Sometimes we even fear disappointing God with the wrong decision and assume we are safe by doing nothing. The parable of the talents, in Matthew 25:14-30, reminds us that doing nothing is an actual decision and that doing nothing out of fear is not pleasing to God. In the parable, two of the people entrusted with resources make prompt decisions aimed at advancing the master’s purposes and have varying degrees of success. The master approves of their effort, while disapproving of the one servant who cowered in fear and did nothing but preserve what was entrusted to him. The parable makes an important point: The resources we have been given are to be joined with faith as we advance the kingdom of God, not preserved and returned to the master later. Good leaders embrace the risk and decisively pursue kingdom advancement. The gospel frees us from the continual fear that God is perpetually disappointed with us, that we will fail or that someone will criticize us. Good leaders, who are decisive about God’s mission, create an environment where other disciples are concerned about exercising faith, rather than being crippled with fear.
The importance of making a decision can be underestimated. Decisiveness allows those around us to act in concert with us. Our energy is focused on a chosen solution. As a forcing function, it brings light and clarity that can allow for adjustments.
Gen. George S. Patton was known to have quipped: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” Patton understood the danger of indecision and, if you are going to lead well, you must couple your desire to be faithful with a willingness to decide.
Leaders make decisions; good leaders make them in time.
Published December 13, 2021