Q: I’m struggling with making decisions. Even on small matters, I freeze. I’ve been given several promotions but now my leadership is telling me to get this figured out. I know the stakes are high and even that’s not enough to help me work through it. What should I do?

Tonya, 43, SVP, innovation

A: Focus on addressing the fear that is likely holding you back.

Start by reflecting on the big picture of decisionmaking in your life. If you don’t have issues in your personal life, what’s different?

Likewise, you may have been more decisive earlier in your career.

This isn’t uncommon: Your ability to take action may have been part of the impetus for your rise in the organization.

When you think about it, it’s not that surprising. In more junior roles, you are close to the work with detailed knowledge about your topic. As you move up, you become responsible for guiding tasks you may never have performed yourself. You need to trust others and make judgment calls without as much direct data.

Consider what you are actually afraid of. With a small decision — approving an e-mail or a small expense — the risk is objectively low. So what’s the worst thing that could happen if you make a bad decision?

Simple. You may have to accept that you were wrong. Sound trivial? For many of us, it can be a hard thing to accept. In fact, it can trigger a debilitating case of impostor syndrome.

You know you have this if you secretly question whether you actually deserve the position you hold.

Notice your phrase, “I’ve been given promotions.” These aren’t the words of someone who truly believes they have earned their increased status in the organization.

The instinct then is to hide within your comfort zone. It’s easier to stall on decisions than to expose yourself to error.

This is not sustainable, as you know. Decide whether you want to remain in an executive role and, if so, what actions you will take.

Commit to addressing your deficit. Given the high stakes and the entrenched behavior, I suggest giving serious consideration to finding a coach who can work with you on this.

Enlist support from your leadership. They clearly value you, so find ways to tap into them for additional feedback and/or mentoring.

Ask your team to nudge you if you are dragging your heels on a decision they need. Then be receptive to their reminders.

Don’t try to go from stalling to snap decisions. Determine a good decision style that incorporates deliberation without delay. Calibrate the information gathering you do to the importance of the decision.

Finally, challenge the negative beliefs that are undermining you.

Focus on your strengths and accomplishments and let them anchor you as you build your decisionmaking skills.


What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at liz@deliverchange.com.