Toxic Indecisive Boss: Straight Talk for Law Enforcement

Today’s article is the fourth in our leadership series regarding Toxic Bosses in Law Enforcement.

Many of law enforcement’s most serious predicaments involve enormous doses of immediacy and consequence. Hesitancy and tentativeness in the public safety world can nurture dangerous life and death predicaments. Decision-makers who can’t definitively formulate or execute vital commands are a huge safety liability. For these reasons, the indecisive boss is arguably the worst cultural fit, and therefore the most treacherous of all toxic law enforcement managers.

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Crisis management and wavering during emergency conditions are not the only way that indecisive bosses hurt public safety. An internal lack of confidence tends to make indecisive managers cautious, tentative, and risk averse in administrative situations as well. Commonly uncertain and reluctant to confront poor performance, the toxic indecisive boss gives bland, politically correct, and unobjectionable answers to queries. Excessive procrastination, and “worrying about all of the reasons not to move forward” create maddening obstacles and delays.

15 Ways to Recognize a Toxic Indecisive Boss When You See One

Hesitant decision-maker / everything is tentative 

Like to wait and see if more information will develop

Prefers guidance and instruction from superiors before they proceed

Blind follower – whatever an executive says is the gospel

Black hole manager / proposals get lost or buried on their desk

Never ruffles administrative feathers



Reluctant to confront poor performance  

Takes great pride in viewing themselves as the ultimate team player

If questioned by their boss, they go into crisis mode and rework must be done immediately

Requires direct reports to tell them everything and get approval prior to taking action 

Struggles internally with a lack of confidence 

Often give answers that are safe and unobjectionable

Afraid of being innovative or trying new techniques

How the Toxic Indecisive Boss Is Impacting the Workplace

Play it safe work environment: Since the toxic indecisive like to play it safe and bask in the warm contentment of their imaginary security, they are uncomfortable in a rapidly changing, high risk, fast past environment. It is not uncommon for the indecisive to institute formal guidelines that prohibit direct reports from engagement until the supervisor either gets on scene or preemptively blesses an innocuous plan of action. Since toxic indecisive managers are slow to try new concepts, they frequently fail to present change proposals up the chain of command.

Paralysis by analysis: Toxic indecisive managers overanalyze everything. Back and forth, back and forth, their internal struggle is colossal. It is hard to imagine how exhausting it must be to experience the inner turmoil of a decision-making wrestling match that never ends. The indecisiveness leads to a judicious modus operandi that features dodging decision-making until they get a feel for how the wind is blowing with superior officers. Commonly they will make statements such as, “Let me check before you act on that,” “Don’t do anything until I get there,” or “Not yet, I’ll get back with you.”

Astonishing teammate: The toxic indecisive view themselves as the ultimate team player. After all, they are obedient, passive, and would never question anything by management. In their mind, lack of confrontation, whether appropriate conflict or not, will make them look good to the boss. This type of manager sees themselves as a good soldier and robust partner with administration.  All decisions by this “strong team player” are formulated using “What will make me look good to my boss” as the number one criteria.

Long-term damage: Toxic indecisiveness creates misunderstanding and hesitancy amongst co-workers. Everyone understands that whatever direction has been provided by supervision is highly likely to change. Flip-flop decision-making equates to frequent directional adjustment and much wasted time. Employees become masters of rework. Frustrated personnel will throw their hands up, or shrug their shoulders while learning to work to minimal standards. The exasperation level of star performers will escalate to the point that they are likely to stop making suggestions for improvement.

Where Do We Go From Here

Famed football coach Vince Lombardi once said “Confidence is contagious; so is lack of confidence.” Start and stop; change, change, change, decision-making discourages and deters the team. Disheartened ineffectualness and impediment become standard operating procedure. Blatantly sidestepping important issues causes the toxic indecisive boss to lose credibility amongst his/her direct reports. When there is no credibility, leadership is impossible.

If the indecisive manager works for a similarly risk averse toxic boss in their chain of command, the administrator will see the waffler in a very positive light. Glowing evaluations and promotions often follow. The irony of this phenomenon is that direct reports and anyone who is not toxic will view the same supervisor as a dangerous roadblock who places subordinates at high risk of injury or death.

It is imperative that those entrusted with leadership positions do not reward the toxic indecisive boss for their bad behavior. Benign decision-making, dithering, and hedging must never equate to success in the organization. Officers should never be in the position of being forced to act outside of supervisory parameters just to get the job done. The best among us understand that courage and appropriate risk taking are part of every great leaders DNA. Boldness, fearlessness, and good ole fashioned gut instinct are often times key to bringing our warriors home safety.


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1 Comment

  1. Richard Paloma

    Lots of boxes checked of my last chief before my retirement.
    Got out at the right time before the fallout and all exposed in media, grand jury, and consultant studies, etc…
    Funny how things like that work. You can bitch about them for awhile and are branded “disgruntled” but then outsiders come in and ID the same thing

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