There are many things that can limit a person’s ability to lead. Hesitating when action is required is one of the more common characteristics of weak leadership.
There is rarely a perfect time to act. If you wait for that perfect time when all the stars are aligned and every conceivable obstacle has been removed then it’s likely you’ll never act at all. Sitting still makes it impossible to go anywhere so unless you’re already exactly where you want to be you better do something.
Some leaders hesitate because they are afraid of risk. Well here’s the deal…risk is mandatory if success and growth are your goals. The legendary Randy Gage (if he’s not a legend he should be) wrote a book in 2013 called “Risky is the New Safe.” The title pretty much says it all. I highly recommend this book if you’re struggling to take the leap of trying something new. It’s available on Amazon for under 10 bucks but it’s value remains priceless.
The fact is the riskiest thing you can do in almost any situation is nothing. Yet nothing is what way too many people in leadership positions do when action is called for. That’s a direct path to failure.
Limited leaders also hesitate because they know that they need help yet they refuse to ask for it. They see acknowledging that they need help as a sign of weakness. Even the biggest most powerful trains sometimes need an extra engine to get going. Perhaps you need a boost too. It’s not a weakness to ask for help, it is in fact a sign of strength. If you need help ask anyone and everyone until you have the help you need to succeed.
Many failed leaders procrastinated past their window of opportunity. They may have convinced themselves that they were being patient. They were really hiding in their comfort zones waiting for the opportunity to pass. Their belief is that if you didn’t try then you cannot fail. They didn’t realize that their failure to try was their biggest failure of all.
Patience is the acceptance that things can happen in a different order than you had in mind. When you don’t know what to do next just do the next right thing. The “order” of things will work themselves out if you keep doing the next right thing.
Joseph Addison said “He who hesitates is lost.” He said that in 1713. I’m thinking life moved a little slower back then. Today that phrase might be updated to say, “if you even think about thinking about hesitating you have zero chance to succeed.”
Business and life in general move so fast these days that not only do you lose if you hesitate, you’re not even in the game.
I once changed roles in a company I was working for and I had the opportunity to review the team I was leaving behind with their incoming leader. We talked about the strengths and weaknesses and how he could help each of them to continue to grow.
When discussing a particular employee I made the comment that this person would do anything you asked them to do to the very best of their ability. That was their strength. Their weakness was that if you didn’t ask them to do anything then nothing is exactly what they would do. Nothing! The person completely lacked initiative.
That’s a huge challenge for many people in the workplace today. They wait and wait to be told what to do. When they are told what to do they will need explicit instructions on when to start and how to do it. You may tell them to do something every Monday morning for a year but the first Monday morning you fail to tell them to do it do not be surprised when it doesn’t get done.
There are lots of reasons some people lack initiative.
Some have what’s called Bounded Rationality. That’s a fancy way of saying they can’t even consider doing something they are not told to do. If it is something not entirely within their comfort zone they won’t even consider doing it unless they are explicitly directed to do it. They may not feel especially qualified to do it and unsure where to start. That’s an initiative killer too.
Some people are lazy. They expend the majority of their energy finding ways to NOT accomplish something. But as a leader you should know this: they were not born lazy. Somewhere along the way they lost their motivation and with it their initiative. Perhaps a former boss or teacher told them they would never succeed. Maybe someone told them they didn’t have what it takes to excel. Sadly they may have believed that.
If you have the audacity the call yourself a leader then never give up on someone who may be lazy today. Discover their motivators and help them find their initiative again. That is not a burden for an Authentic Leader, it is a challenge they enthusiastically accept.
Some people who seem to lack initiative have learned that if they wait long enough to take action that someone, likely you, will come along to rescue them. Their lack of initiative is strategic.
They know that you or someone else you assign will swoop in to get the work done. In these cases you as a leader are at least party responsible for their lack of initiative. You have taught them that they do not need to be accountable. You deny them the opportunity to learn and grow. You limit their opportunities to learn decision making and correcting mistakes they may have made.
If they are thinking they cannot succeed you have solidified their thinking. That’s not effective leadership.
Sometimes too much initiative can actually lead to what appears to be a lack of initiative. When a person says yes to more than they can handle they may become so overburdened that they don’t know where to begin…so they don’t.
As a leader you must not allow your people to become so weighted down with work that they can’t maintain their forward momentum. When that happens most leaders wonder what happened to their former top performer. What they don’t realize is that what happened to them was inattentive leadership.
If you’re not yet a leader but you want to be then you must make taking the initiative a habit. If you hope for greater success in the future then stop hoping and start taking the initiative.
Make no mistake about this absolute fact: if you always wait for someone to tell you what to do you can be certain that someone will always be telling you what to do.