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How do subordinates react when working with a no-decision manager?

Subordinates go through two phases when they first start working with a no-decision manager, never having worked with one before. Encountering a no-decision boss will be a pleasant one. They are generally friendly, approachable and invariably intelligent. This feeling of contentment continues until the first series of decisions needs to be made.


The moment of the second or third non-decision provokes the discovery phase, and the emotional journey with the new no-decision boss begins. First comes surprise that no decisions are made. Second comes insecurity, where subordinates wonder whether they are the cause of the delay in decision-making and finally frustration at all levels from mild frustration to acute frustration, building up in some subordinates to anger that the boss never decides anything.


At the end of the discovery phase, they realise that their no-decision boss is never going to make a decision, whatever they do to help or persuade them to make one. They have suddenly discovered a boss who never decides. They probably never knew that such a manager even existed, but now they have one as their boss.

The quickest and most natural way for subordinates to deal with a no-decision boss is to get away, to resign as soon as they have found another job.  Many subordinates decide on this option, instead of dealing with the frustrations of working for a no-decision boss. I did this with two of my three no-decision bosses. These subordinates simply refuse to work for a boss who never decides. Bosses after all are paid to make decisions.

‘Fundamental frustration’

Many of the subordinates who choose to stay with their no-decision boss prolong the frustration from the discovery phase and move into a type of permanent severe frustration, which I call ‘fundamental frustration.’ Here subordinates continue to try to persuade their no-decision boss to make decisions, and continue to be exasperated when decisions are not made. They cannot accept that managers who never decide are left in place in their organisation.

I have found only one account of someone working with a true no-decision manager in ‘fundamental frustration’. This article, called ‘Strategies to Deal with Indecisive Bosses’, is posted in www.employmentcrossing.com. The author, who is anonymous, worked for six years with his no-decision boss in ‘fundamental frustration’. He classifies his boss as ‘indecisive’, but she is clearly a very effective no-decision manager. His frustration, anger and disrespect accurately reflect what subordinates feel when they stay working with a no-decision boss in this type of relationship.

‘Reticent resignation’

It is, however, difficult for many subordinates to stay frustrated for long and some simply become resigned to the lack of decision-making in passive submission to distance themselves from frustration, a sort of resignation, what I call ‘reticent resignation’. They resign themselves to the situation, and carry out whatever work they can do without decisions, but still do not accept that their boss never makes decisions.

These two states: ‘fundamental frustration’ and ‘reticent resignation,’ reduce performance levels and generate low morale. Subordinates carry out their allotted hours of work each day with no challenge, no enthusiasm, and no initiative, having lost hope of any improvement or direction in their department or company with this type of toxic manager as their boss.

‘Constant conflict’

A small minority of subordinates stay in a state of anger with their no-decision boss, in what I call ‘constant conflict’. Here they remain in a continuous state of confrontation and pressure the boss, often in anger, every time a decision should be made. They make their boss’s life as miserable as possible, believing that bosses are in place to decide, that decision-making is such a fundamental part of the role of a manager that they should not be allowed to get away with not making decisions. These subordinates also refuse to accept that a manager should be left in place in their organisation, allowed to get away with never making decisions.


More than half of subordinates of the eight no-decision managers whom I worked with, either quit or chose one of these three ‘negative emotional states’: frustration, resignation or anger as their working relationship with their no-decision boss. I do not know whether the first two states: ‘fundamental frustration’ and ‘reticent resignation,’ were actively chosen or whether subordinates just fell into them thinking that this was a natural way for them to react to this type of boss. There is some evidence, however, that many were not aware that it is possible to work positively with a no-decision manager, despite having colleagues working alongside them quite happy with this type of boss. The positive ways to work with no-decision managers will be described in a future article.

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