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Their impact on organisations

As has already been discussed, no-decision managers:

a) make no-decisions in their department or company

b) allow competent subordinates to leave and

c) have a large number of their direct subordinates working with them in frustration, resignation or anger.

These subordinates however also have teams to manage and the knowledge that their boss is unhappy will quickly become known, as will the fact that their boss’s boss never makes decisions. This brings disappointment and another form of resignation to these subordinates further down in the hierarchy. It is a less intense form of resignation, than those of direct subordinates, because they do not have a direct working relationship with the no-decision manager,  but in many ways it is worse, as they have no way to directly influence the lack of decision-making.

There is a fair amount of management literature which states that the worst decision anyone can make is the not to make any decision at all, and just wait and do nothing. No decision, they say, is worse than a bad one. This theory has been made famous by the quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, which says:

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”   (Source Note 1 below)

If this theory is valid, the worst type of toxic manager would be a manager that never takes decisions, yet ironically, there is no literature at all, on no-decision managers. They apparently do not exist.

There is, however, a lot written about other types of toxic managers. There are even management gurus that do research them, write books about them and cure them of their toxicity, whatever this might be. These gurus, generally agree that toxic managers, especially those who work in top management bring success and high financial rewards to their companies even in the long term. This is surely part of the reason why organisations leave them in place. No-decision managers, on the other hand, are quite incapable of bringing any success or financial rewards, and yet, they are left in organisations for years. By definition, their non decision-making will ensure that annual budgets and financial goals will never be met. So it can therefore be argued, yet again, that no-decision managers are even more toxic than the other known and documented toxic managers.

It is true, no-decision managers do have some qualities; they are after all ‘hiding in excellence’ with skills in report making and knowledge of the organisation and its technology, so they do bring something to the organisation. Their bosses, no doubt, think this compensates for lack of decision making. Most subordinates, however, would never agree. Most of them think their no-decision boss is incompetent, and they believe that the lack of decision-making is harmful to them and to their organisation.

 It is evident then, that no-decision managers do not create dynamic, well run organisations. At the best, the organisation is in a sort of status quo, standing still, and not going anywhere for lack of decision-making. At the worst, no-decision managers 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 in their organisation. Tasks are carried out mechanically. Absenteeism increases. The situation encourages unproductive chatter on how the boss never makes decisions and the effect it is having on their work.

All this generates a high level of indirect and hidden costs in the short term. If no-decision managers are allowed to stay in place for many years, it causes the decline and slow death of the organisation. 

(Note 1 Innumerable sources attribute this quotation to Theodore Roosevelt. However the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University (www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org) considers there is no proof, saying:

‘This statement is often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but no known source can be found to verify the attribution’.

However one source, Wikiquote (wikiquote.org), attributes the quote to John M. Kost on 25 July 1995 in S. 946, the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1995, in a hearing before the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management and the District of Columbia of the Committee on Governmental Affairs in 1996. P.S. Even though John M. Kost has not become famous, his quotation has!)

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