What’s behind decisiveness as a leadership quality?


You’ve probably come across that saying : “If your religion requires that you hate someone then you need a new religion.” The world you experience and perpetuate is a reflection of your worldview. If you believe that violence is the only answer – you will believe in a violent God or justify the need for violence in the world; if you believe that some people are better than others – you will perpetuate a hierarchal, exclusive world; if you believe every human being is worthy of love – you will perpetuate a loving world.  

The same is true of leaders. We follow/vote for leaders who embody the qualities of leadership we admire and believe to be necessary to perpetuate the kind of world that supports our beliefs.

Our beliefs about leadership are therefore crucial to the kind of leaders we aspire to be, who we are inspired to follow and who we end up voting for.

The leaders who shape our world, our countries, our organisations have such power that we must be conscious in our support of those who display the qualities that have a positive, beneficial impact at all levels and for all people.

 So when I hear people say decisiveness is an important aspect of leadership, it’s not enough because deluded people can be very decisive about going in the wrong direction. The trouble is unempowered people like someone else to take the burden of thinking off of their shoulders so the very first caveat I will add with decisiveness is that it’s underpinned with the quality of listening and the quality of listening needs to be magnified depending on the number of people those decisions impact.

So the degree to which decisiveness is a positive quality goes hand in hand with the ability to listen without bias, synthesise without self-interest and decide based on the common good.

The danger with accepting a quality at face value is we end up hiring, appointing, voting for the wrong people – we’re impressed by confidence not competence.

I can hear people say- you don’t always have the luxury to listen, you just have to decide. So I spoke to someone who had fought in a war, Peter Galloway, a Commander in HMS Glamorgan during the Falklands conflict. I asked him about his own life or death decisions.

A specific example he gave was a faulty radar, a critical piece of equipment keeping the ship battle-ready. No time for trial and error, quick decisions had to be taken. Peter ascribed the capacity to make that decision down to his experience with the equipment and his intelligence in knowing how to adapt that experience to the situation in hand. However, getting people to trust those pivotal decisions reflected the bonds of trust he’d developed with the men since joining the ship. He was working with a wide variety of men from those with only basic technical knowledge to those that were highly skilled.

I was struck by two things that were attributes of Peter’s being in terms of what he believed to be true:

  1. that every single man was a key person – each and every one of them was important to the purpose and mission
  2. accountability for getting everyone to work with each other was his responsibility – in his words: “if I can’t get them to work with people- I’ve failed.”

These beliefs led to critical behaviours – using his hours on watch to walk around the whole of his watch cohort to talk to the men and using part of his precious non-watch time, time he had to eat, wash and sleep, to speak to the men that were not on his watch.

Those pre-existing behaviours and focus on connection lead to the impact he was able to make for all the men on board that ship at critical and non-critical moments.

Quite simply, his decisions were trusted and acted upon.

This is a great example of leadership and how we cannot isolate leadership qualities from the integral person – who they are in their being. The quality of their “being” leads to great “doing”.

The being of leadership is one of the cornerstones in our book Leadership Through Covid-19 and Beyond. How to create an integrated 21st century organisation.

If you’d like to learn more about Peter’s experiences his book is: “My Bags are in the Back” by Peter Galloway and available from Amazon.

leadership through covid-19 and beyond

How to create an integrated 21st century organisation.

By Anne Stenbom & Helen Battersby

pre-order your copy here

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