How Procrastination Undermines Pro-Active Leadership - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #336

How Procrastination Undermines Pro-Active Leadership

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When it matters most, are you able to make effective decisions or do you hesitate and find reasons to delay them? Many leaders are guilty of the latter, the underlying cause of which is procrastination — something that stands in the way of proactive leadership and should be dealt with to ensure you and your organization does not suffer from its rippling negative effects.


Being able to make the right decisions at the right time is a crucial part of leadership. Too often, however, lack of a proactive attitude gets in the way, causing not only decisions getting delayed but leaders failing to effectively resolve key business challenges. Ultimately, a lack of proactive leadership can have profound effects on an organization, where innovation hardly takes place, clear visions are difficult to find, and inertia becomes a part of the organizational DNA.

Lurking behind a lack of proactive leadership is procrastination, according to an article by David De Cremer, published in the European Business Review. Building on his book, The Proactive Leader: How To Overcome Procrastination And Be A Bold Decision Maker, De Cremer examines the process of procrastination in order to understand why proactive leadership is often put on hold.

He describes procrastination as a leader’s tendency to delay making important decisions while executing the less important ones. However, most leaders are biased in the ways that they evaluate themselves, and thus do not perceive themselves as suffering from a lack of proactive attitude. These leaders have an increased tendency to hesitate and procrastinate. In his research among Chinese executives, De Cremer found that team leaders evaluated themselves as more proactive than both their subordinates and supervisors perceived them to really be.

There are two underlying causes of procrastination that he highlights:

  1. Forces within the leader: leaders that do not regulate their goals or have the tendency to get lost in less important or irrelevant decisions are more likely to fall prey to procrastination. Similarly, impulsive leaders also have a hard time recognising and controlling their emotional states.
  2. Forces from outside the leader: the environment leaders work in also has an effect on their decision-making; for example, distrust and a lack of transparency can evoke feelings of fear and uncertainty. Leaders who do not feel confident enough to execute their own list of priorities may quickly be swept off their feet in such conditions.

Procrastinating leaders can negatively influence all levels of an organization and install status-quo thinking among everyone involved, and so it is crucial for companies and future leaders to focus on ways to avoid these bad habits.


De Cremer concludes that leaders must develop confident and proactive strategies that will enable them to make the right decisions. Subsequently, procrastination will be less likely to undermine the development of the company towards a sustainable and competitive future.

These strategies should encounter both forces from within and outside themselves, and in particular they should encompass the following:

  • Think through the consequences and the possible effects a decision may reveal in the bigger picture. Not doing so may induce a strong sense of hesitation every time an important decision has to be made.
  • Work on your emotional, physical and relational life. Research shows a clear connection between procrastination and increased levels of stress which have a damaging effect on your immune system. So the more a leader delays decisions, the more negative consequences will emerge for his/her psychological and physical health.



On the Challenge of Pro-Active Leadership and the Danger of Procrastination. David De Cremer. European Business Review (November 2013).

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Idea conceived

December 1, 2013

Idea posted

Mar 2014
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