The toxic managers who never take decisions, whom I call ‘no-decision managers,’ have not yet been written about in the current management literature and no research has been done on them. They are invisible in organisations, except to their direct subordinates, yet they exist, destroying the departments they manage and de-motivating their subordinates.
No-decision managers cannot exist in organisations!
Most people will say that this type of manager just cannot exist. Making decisions, after all, is such a fundamental part of management that such managers would never be able to survive in any organisation. But these are comments of someone who has not yet come across a no-decision manager in their working career. These managers however do exist, and there will come a time in any person’s career when they will be confronted by such a manager, as their boss, as a colleague or even as a subordinate.
I have worked with eight no-decision managers throughout my career in multinationals in Europe. Of the eight, three were my direct boss and the five others were colleagues. But what is extraordinary, when I look back and analyse what was happening during my time spent with them, is the similarity of their behaviours, their common functional strategies, and the homogeneity of their characteristics, yet they had never met each other. This can only be because their whole working life is organised around avoiding decision-making.
Let me share some insights. No-decision managers are not hesitant managers or managers who are slow to take decisions. They are not what are sometimes called ‘procrastination managers’, who work primarily on tasks and actions that they enjoy and who delay other tasks until the last minute. These managers do take decisions in the end. Nor are they ‘indecisive managers’, who, it is true, are the closest species of manager to the no-decision manager, because they use many of the same tactics to delay decision-making. In the end though, ‘indecisive managers’, often with the help of their subordinates, will take a decision. No-decision managers go the whole way, they never decide ever, as extraordinary as that sounds. They are simply averse to deciding, and so most of their management time is spent on decision avoidance and survival.
No academic research
No serious academic research has been carried out on them, because it would expose their fatal flaw of not making decisions. No-decision managers are unlikely to volunteer to come forward to be examined by researchers and no organisation would ever admit that it knowingly employed managers that never made decisions. If they could find them, researchers would have to investigate without the knowledge or the consent of the no-decision managers themselves, and then would have to reveal their no decision-making flaw to the hierarchy of the company being studied. The bosses would then dismiss them. No-decision managers, therefore can only be studied from the inside of organisations by their subordinates.
I have no idea whether these eight no-decision managers over a period of 25 years are a representative sample of no-decision managers in organisations in general. However it does show that they exist, so there must be others working today in other organisations. It is for this reason that, I am interested in hearing from anyone who has worked with such a manager.