Stop procrastinating -- and start being successful

Portrait of a tired young business man bored during meeting
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(MoneyWatch) Do you ever wonder what kind of efficiency machine you could be if you could just stop procrastinating? Would you get promoted? Find a better life/work balance? Stress less about missed deadlines? These are all distinct possibilities, if you are able to dive into tasks without hesitation. David De Cremer, a professor of management at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, has focused his research on this harmful habit, and he says that the ability to be a leadership and the capability of making decisions with speed go hand in hand. He shares what he's learned in his new book, "The Proactive Leader: How to Overcome Procrastination and Be A Bold Decision-Maker." Recently we discussed how to stay focused, make better decisions -- and help others on your team do the same.

MoneyWatch: Why is procrastination such a bad habit for a leader?

David De Cremer: Leaders delaying important decisions undermine the efficiency and decision strength of a company. If one important decision is delayed other subsequent decisions will be delayed as well and throughout the company the decision-making apparatus gets more complicated and less efficient. Procrastinating leaders promote a kind of status-quo thinking among their team members and other employees.

MW: How can someone who procrastinates start to change their behavior?

DDC: It is important that you always think through the consequences of your decisions (where may this decision lead you to in the future) in light of the goals that you wish to pursue. It is also important that you feel emotionally well and therefore it is important to work and keep working on your social relationships. You need to create a trustworthy working climate so nasty or difficult decisions can be taken without being afraid that it will turn against you right away.

MW: Does being a fast-decision maker always make someone a good leader?

DDC: Under certain conditions it may, of course, be a good thing to reflect on things and delay a decision for some time. If people know that the leader is "intrinsically" motivated to do a good job and thus has no real conflicts of interest then delaying a decision will not be perceived as so bad. If a leader is perceived as being extrinsically motivated, that is, the leader is seen as having a personal interest in one of the options, then any delay will be perceived immediately as negative and most likely producing unfair outcomes.

MW: What are some ways to encourage those on your team to procrastinate less?

DDC: Ask people to be clear themselves about the goals they personally would like to achieve. Ask them to imagine the worst consequences possible if they would avoid making an important decision. When that kind of consequence is salient many people will be motivated to make a decision. Also, people who lack self-esteem and do not feel self-confident procrastinate more. So, try to create an environment where successes are rewarded and celebrated, and failures are seen as learning moments you do not dwell on.

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