Why Do Some Leaders Make Poor Decisions?

Sometimes leaders make poor decisions. Human history is littered with stories of decisions that make you wonder, Why did they think that would be a good idea?

“Leaders are human beings, just like the rest of us,” is what people often say. Indeed, it’s true that our tendency to see our leaders with halos around their heads is part of the trouble, but that doesn’t explain all of it. What follows are some dangers leaders face that can lead to poor decisions.

Leaders may not communicate enough regarding their decisions.

This can happen for the following reasons:

  • Leaders frequently have to make consequential decisions that not everyone will agree with. If followers feel a bad decision was made, they often take it out on the leader.
  • Sometimes leaders make decisions others don’t agree with because the decision is based on confidential information. At other times, staff don’t relay crucial information from the front lines, and the lack of communication is to blame for the leader’s bad decision.
  • Transparency can become tiresome for some leaders. As a result, they overemphasize how external factors are to blame for their poor decision. They may even be tempted to find ways to cover up their decision or overcomplicate processes and communication so only those who are really committed can take the time to understand what’s really going on.
  • Some leaders are simply not great communicators. They may not even realize what, how, or to whom they need to communicate. In the absence of communication, followers fill in the gaps with assumptions that may or may not be correct, but which inform their perspective on the leader.

Being a leader can make you feel isolated.

Based on my personal experience, I know that leaders often feel isolated. When I received a significant promotion 15 years ago, three things happened overnight:

1) My former peers distanced themselves from me.

2) When I said something to those below me on the organizational chart that would have formerly been received as an honest confession, they responded with silence.

3) I was invited into conversations with my new peers and superiors wherein people in the rest of the organization were condemned for their known weaknesses. I developed a belief that it was not safe to be honest with these people, or anyone.

Isolation can perpetuate the lack of communication and prevents leaders from seeking out the helpful perspectives of others in the organization when making an important decision.

Leaders fear their organization’s response to a poor decision.

Sadly, organizations tend to respond in one of two opposite, but equally tragic ways to a leader’s poor decisions. Some clamp down on them, setting in place accountabilities that offer little flexibility. Leader’s decisions in these types of organizations become cautious and conservative, and the institution often stagnates as a result. Other organizations may take a more hands-off approach and fail to provide their leaders with enough accountability. This perpetuates the lack of communication that can lead to poor decisions.

If organizations want to help their leaders succeed, they need to train them on how to better communicate about their decisions.

So, how can leaders make better decisions? If organizations want to help their leaders succeed, they need to train them on how to better communicate about their decisions. This includes placing an emphasis on communication and teamwork. Followers appreciate leaders that value their opinions and communicate with them effectively and often. Not only will this improve the leader’s decisions, it also has the potential to reduce feelings of isolation as they begin to see themselves as part of a team.

For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.


Mike Labun

Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Learning

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