Making decisions for the no-decision boss is not the only way to work in harmony with them. There is another simpler way which is often a necessary step to take before making their decisions.
In my book I explain how I moved out of frustration into this state so instead of rephrasing it here, I quote it below. However, I had some fun making the process complicated which it is not, and pretending I took advice from Aristotle, Wordsworth and an unknown psychologist: Wolff-Michael Roth to get there.
“Your first step is to acknowledge that your new boss is never going to make a decision and simply to decide to live with this. Your pain experienced from working with him or her comes in the form of frustration, resignation or conflict – whatever state you have chosen.
The second step is to choose to become calm and uncomplaining, and accept and live through your negative emotions, i.e. become patient. Patience requires the calm acceptance of your negative emotion towards your no-decision boss. As Aristotle said: ‘Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet.’
But on its own, patience is not sufficient. You need a third step. This involves banning what Wolff-Michael Roth called ‘uncomplaining endurance of pain, affliction and inconvenience’ in his 2011 work Passibility: at the Limits of Constructive Metaphor. Aristotle called this ‘banning the bitterness’.
Here you need to adopt a process of internal psychological introspection relying on the advice of the major English 18th-century Romantic poet William Wordsworth. It is now well known that Wordsworth wrote his poetry from the standpoint of ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’. You just need to adopt his strategy. You no longer live in your emotion. You transcend it and look back on your time spent in negative emotion from a perspective of ‘tranquillity’.
In the jargon of the no-decision movement this state is called ‘peaceful patience’. Peaceful patience is simply patience minus the frustration, resignation or conflict that comes with working for a no-decision boss. You understand that a decision will never be made. You have surrendered to this reality and have accepted, with no aggressiveness, that your boss will never make decisions. You stop the pressure for decision-making. You reach a place of peace and acceptance.”
To be clear, the no-decision movement doesn’t exist. I invented it together with the jargon and the name peaceful patience!
Three things happen when you move into peaceful patience. First, you no longer need to pester the boss for decisions. Second, your no-decision boss sees your change of behaviour, and becomes an ally instead of an adversary. Finally you are free to do what you want on your job, because no-decision bosses never give orders, never set deadlines, never monitor or comment on the work you do or don’t do. There are no constraints. This is better than staying in frustration.
You can also stay in peaceful patience and never move into making decisions in place of a no-decision boss. The major disadvantage, however, is your career in the company has stopped. Since you are no-longer in conflict with your no-decision boss, they will want to keep you in the team. Promotions within the organisation will be resisted and transfers to other departments will not be allowed. The boss may not make decisions, but the energy put into keeping you in place will surprise you.
You are working in an underperforming part of the organisation because no decisions are made, so you have also become invisible and anything you do well; a report, a presentation, even a recommendation, will be taken by your boss as theirs. Everything done well is theirs and anything done badly is the fault of someone else. This is normal no-decision manager behaviour.
Many subordinates take time to realise all this. You have been warned. In the short term this is not an issue, but you need to manage the situation. Amazing as it seems, no-decision managers can stay in organisations for years, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are working for a toxic, incompetent boss who will be discovered and then fired. They have strategies for survival which are effective.
The most logical thing to do is to fix a reasonable horizon and prepare your endgame. If you think you can persuade your boss’s boss to promote you, work on it. If you think you should leave, start the process of looking for a new job. If you are happy with your freedom, stay where you are.