All or Nothing: Why Decisive People Make the Best CEOs

istock-500960704-compressorAs CEO of Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce company, Zhang sees it as his personal duty to only sweat the tough decisions. And when it comes to making them, he says acting swiftly and decisively is more important than always being right.

“You can always course-correct if things don’t work out,” Zhang wrote this week in Fast Company. “The real fear is in the state of paralysis that results when you can’t make a decision at all.”

So is this a good piece of advice for other CEOs to follow? Sure, making quick decisions can help companies stay ahead of the pack in an ever-changing digital world. But the reputation of many a business leader has been marred by a bad call. Just ask former Blockbuster CEO John Antico, who passed on an opportunity to buy Netflix in 2000 for $50 million.

To be fair to Antico, he had his reasons for rebuffing Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings’ offer and quickly realized the importance of establishing an online presence, as outlined in this personal account.

“You can always course-correct if things don’t work out. The real fear is in the state of paralysis that results when you can’t make a decision at all.

Indeed, for the most part, the general consensus among management experts appears to back Zhang’s advice: decisiveness is what makes CEOs special.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Nick Tasler, the CEO of consultancy Decision Pulse, said less-confident leaders are more likely to delay decisions before settling on a “compromised Frankenstein solution” that leaves staff moderately enthused and ultimately fosters mediocrity.

He cites a 2010 study by George Potworowski at the University of Michigan, which found that decisive people are more likely to possess positive personality traits such as emotional stability and social boldness.

Of course, that doesn’t mean leaders should abandon collaboration or forget about conducting research. It just means, at the end of day, they’ll need to take their organization in a clearly-defined direction.

“I’ve found that if you have resolve, almost anything is possible—all roads really do lead to Rome, even if some turn out bumpier than others,” writes Alibaba’s Zhang. “The key is just to keep moving forward.”

Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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