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As a business leader, it is often easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks of running a business and forget the importance of making quick decisions – especially when coming back from a holiday and finding your email box full and your desk piled high with things to do. However, this quote from Theodore Roosevelt reminds us how essential it is to act swiftly and decisively, and that doing nothing is the worst approach.

It is a reminder that the world is constantly changing and that if we do not take action, we will be left behind. It also highlights the fact that inaction can be even more detrimental than making the wrong decision.

Being decisive and doing something means you’re moving, and it’s always easier and quicker to change direction if it turns out that you’re heading the wrong way than to try to get things started from a standstill. And often, it’s the fear of making a wrong move that causes leaders to delay making any move at all, and delays lead to great risk and missed opportunities.

Just imagine, for example, what would have happened if Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger had delayed his decision to land on the Hudson River back in 2009? Almost certainly, all 155 people on board would have been killed and, perhaps, a whole lot more people on the ground… And he had just 208 seconds between losing both engines when the flock of geese flew into them and landing safely on the river, so he had to act fast!

Apart from the fear of making the wrong decision, another leading cause of delay is the fear of change. But, as Jeffrey Gitomer said, “Change is not a four letter word… but often your reaction to it is!” and so we need to seek out change and not hide from it – for change is necessary for the success of our businesses.

Of course, rushing into action too quickly can lead to greater risks, too – the costs to business can mount up, and leaders who constantly change direction are not perceived well by their teams. The key is balance, and Dan Pontefract, in his book “Open to Think” makes a compelling case for what he calls ‘Open Thinking’ – giving yourself sufficient time (circumstances permitting, of course) to reflect on the issue, working through it and weighing the evidence before taking the appropriate action.

As for whether ‘gut feel’ is an appropriate way to make decisions, especially when time is tight, there are arguments both for and against it, but overall, it’s best to consider it as one of the inputs to your decision-making, rather than the only one. And if you’d like to learn more about using your gut, or intuition, “Decisive Intuition” by Rick Snyder makes an interesting read.

Of course, a degree of irrationality is common to us all, and in his book, “Predictably Irrational,” Daniel Ariely makes some fascinating observations about our decision-making process and offers some great advice for businesses that can help them guide their customers’ to decide. Marketers, in particular, might find this an interesting way to help sales…

Les McKeown has a very nice 3-step approach to effective decision-making, too:

  • Investigate – allocating an appropriate amount of time (it could be seconds, or even months, depending on the complexity) to identifying and understanding the information needed to decide on the best way forward.
  • Interpret – taking the information gathered and understanding it in order to decide on how best to move ahead. Again, for simple issues, this could be a matter of seconds or minutes, to considerably longer for complex ones.
  • Implement – the key third part is, of course, to follow through having made your decision in principle. Without action, it really is little more than a dream, as Joel Barker reminds us.


Theodore Roosevelt’s quote is a powerful reminder of the importance of taking action when making decisions. Hesitation and delay can lead to missed opportunities, confusion, lack of direction, lack of accountability and negative effects on team morale. It is important to gather the necessary information and weigh the pros and cons before making deciding (always bearing in mind the size and importance of the issue), but once you have decided, it is essential to have the courage and conviction to act on it.

As Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.”


Following a career spanning nearly 50 years in the technology industry across three continents, with three decades in CxO roles leading significant, sustained growth in revenue and profitability, I now work with successful owner-led businesses to further enhance their growth, profitability and business value.

If you’d like to discuss your business goals, or anything else related to your business, book a confidential, free 30-minute call with me here.

I’d be delighted to talk with you.

If you’d like to learn more, these related posts might be of interest:

You might also like this short resource from the authors, university lecturers and speakers, Chip & Dan Heath: Six Simple Questions that Yield Better Decisions

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