One thing most leadership books will tell you is that decisiveness is pretty important. For example, in A Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman says that many leaders today are stuck in a morass of data, thinking that if they just know enough information they'll be able to lead well. Friedman says that this is a false hope, and that while some information will obviously be helpful, leaders must be decisive, intuitive, and bold, even when others may perceive that as arrogance or brashness.
It certainly is easy to get mired down in the "paralysis of analysis," and I know there are times to make a decision and move, but I was reading something this morning that made me think that there are also times when the best thing to do is not make a decision, despite the pressure to do something.
The story I read is in 1 Samuel 13:5-15. Saul has been made king over Israel, much to Samuel's (and God's) chagrin. Saul has an initial victory in rescuing a city from destruction (1 Sam 11), and now a large army of Philistines is gathering to fight Israel. The situation is pretty dire. People are hiding in caves and thickets, pits and cisterns, abandoning their homes and going back across the Jordan seeking refuge. Saul and his men are in Gilgal, "quaking with fear."
Saul was supposed to wait for seven days for Samuel to arrive to offer sacrifices to God before they began their operations. Saul waited a week, and Samuel never showed. Saul's men are beginning to scatter, the whole nation is cowering in fear, so Saul makes a bold, decisive leadership move: he offers the sacrifices himself.
Just then Samuel shows up and knows, "What have you done?" he asks. Saul's answer is completely understandable: the men were scattering, the Philistines are assembling, you weren't coming, so I "felt compelled" to offer the sacrifices myself. A bold, decisive move to keep people together. But also a reckless, tragic move for Saul's kingship. Because of his unfaithfulness, Samuel tells Saul that God has rejected him as king and already chosen his replacement. So much for being decisive.
I think it just goes to show that there is a paradox to spiritual leadership. There are times to move ahead boldly, to rely on intuition and hunch and curiosity. But there are also times to wait. There are times when making a decision is that last thing a leader ought to do. I suppose the trick is to figure out which time is which.
And I suppose that's where prayer comes in. Reading about the life of Saul, I never get the impression that he is a man of prayer. There aren't any Psalms of Saul. I get the feeling that this whole "life with God" part of being king of Israel is more of a superstitious chore to him than a vital part of his life. He always seems to simply be appeasing a popular old man (Samuel) than really investing himself in it. The result is that he makes foolish decisions and the kingship is taken away from him.
As leaders, sometimes we need to just start moving in a general direction, despite our trepidation and uncertainty. Other times, we need to simply wait and refuse to make a decision for awhile. May God grant us the grace and wisdom to know what time it is.