You Could be Wrong

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know that my first job in management came as quite a shock to me. I was a very good salesperson until one day I was pulled into the office and asked if I would be interested in jumping several levels of management to become the General Sales Manager. 

I wasn’t actually sure what the General Sales Manager did but I did know the job came with a new car, a huge office with a private bathroom and a whole lot more money. Lots and lots of money. 

So of course I said yes and the following Monday I was in charge of a large sales organization. I didn’t let the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing keep me from doing it. We were selling soda pop and I sold more than anybody. How tough could it be to make sure everyone else was selling all they could too.

To say I made a few mistakes would be a rather large understatement. The worst part was everyone but me could see the mistakes coming from a mile away. I might have been a little too proud to ask the more experienced people for help but eventually I made the sales organization more of a democracy so others could share their ideas. But I made the final call because I was the boss and that’s what bosses do. 

Shortly after I was promoted I faced the biggest decision I would ever make in my new role. There were two major convenience store chains in the city where I was working. Vendors in both of those chains paid for the best shelf space. I only had the budget to purchase “eye level”  cooler space in one of the chains. The chains appeared to be about the same to me so I very strategically picked the chain with a location closest to my house. 

We would still have shelf space in the other chain’s stores but it would be “bottom shelf. ” Customers would have to look long and hard to find our products. 

My decision looked good for a few weeks. A few weeks. Just 3 weeks after making the agreement with one convenience chain it was acquired by the chain I decided not to make an agreement with. 

The chain that did the acquiring tossed all the vendor contracts from the chain they acquired. That meant in every major convenience store in a large metropolitan area, my products were now all bottom shelf. 

I was pretty lucky that my boss didn’t think that disaster was my fault. He chalked it up to bad luck and we agreed there was no way I could have seen that coming. But to this day I suspect I could have seen it coming. I know for a fact I should have seen it coming. 

I managed to mitigate much of the damage with some new sales programs and by out hustling the competition. I also learned a ton about making decisions, making mistakes, and “fixing” poor decisions. 

But what I learned most of all is to accept the fact that I could be wrong. About almost anything. That meant that people I disagreed with could be right. About almost anything. 

Authentic Leaders must make confident decisions based on the facts they have available. They must also be open to discover new facts that become available and have the courage to change a decision based on the new information. 

Leaders who cannot accept that one of their decisions may need to be changed are very limited leaders. Leaders who refuse to accept that they could be wrong have no ability to learn from their mistakes. Leaders who believe that accepting responsibility for a poor decision is a weakness will never fully have the trust of their people. 

Leaders who do not have the trust of their people are leaders in name only. For anyone hoping to truly lead making a mistake need not be fatal, refusing to admit that mistake most often is. 

Listening to You

There’s a pretty good chance that everything you know to be true isn’t. “Knowing” things that you really don’t know will get you in as much trouble, or maybe more, then not knowing about them at all.

The good news is that there also is a pretty good chance that you know stuff that you don’t even know you know.

The stuff you know that you don’t know you know is sometimes called intuition or instinct. I think psychologists would say that it’s actually things you’ve learned that your conscious mind has forgotten but your subconscious mind hasn’t.

Leaders who lead in difficult times trust those instincts. They also know that they could be wrong about most anything so they verify what they “know” to be true. In order to do either of those you must work with a wide open mind.

When you’re unsure of anything it’s good leadership practice to seek out advice from those you trust. Listen to them. When you’re sure of something it’s a good idea to listen to opposing viewpoints too, if only to determine if others are as sure as you. This is when an open mind is particularly important.

Great leaders have open minds, they seek out advice and then act. They may or may not follow the advice of others. They listen to everyone and everyone includes themselves.

Don’t forget, your instincts could be spot on. Just because you don’t remember learning something doesn’t mean your entire brain has forgotten it too.

Listen to yourself. Trust your instincts and trust your gut. Your experience will not mislead you, your experience has no motive of its own. Using your personal experience to make decisions shows that you can learn from your successes AND your mistakes.

So go ahead and seek the guidance of others but seek your own guidance too. When you listen to you it’s possible you’re listening to the one person who can help you the most.

You most likely know more than you think you do, but remember, no one knows it all.

Tough Decisions

There are many characteristics that make a leader. One of the most important is good judgment, especially when making tough decisions. Poor decision making can make small problems big and cause big problems to become fatal.

The tendency of weak leaders is to put off decisions as long as possible. Sometimes it’s actually possible to put off a decision forever. Except it’s not really possible.

What weaker leaders don’t seem to understand is that not making a decision IS a decision. It’s a decision not to decide and that particular decision is almost always a bad decision.

Other leaders, even good leaders, want to wait to make a decision until they have as much information as possible to make a correct decision. That’s good thinking…except when it isn’t.

The very best leaders are prepared to make decisions even when they don’t have all the information they wish they had. They are prepared to make decisions even when the information they use to make those decisions changes every day.

They use past experience as reference points and their “gut instincts” to make the best decision possible at the time the decision needs to be made. They don’t only do that with small or easy decisions. In fact oftentimes they have to make the tough decisions, even the toughest decisions, without all the information they wish they had.

But Authentic Leaders make the decision anyway.

Authentic Leaders know that it’s easier to fix a wrong decision than it is to fix no decision. A real decision causes action to be taken and that action can be adjusted as many times as a fast changing situation may require. No decision is a decision to not take action and that inertia becomes more difficult to overcome the longer it persists.

It takes a ton more fuel to get a plane in the air than it does to keep it there. Changing course also requires far less energy than taking off. So it is with decisions too. Once you’ve made a real decision you’re in motion and motion begets motion.

Authentic Leaders make tough decisions. Many of them don’t enjoy having to do that but they make those decisions anyway. They know some of their decisions will be wrong but most of them, especially the big ones, will be right.

Don’t delay when it comes to making a decision. The moment you have enough information to make a decision make it. If you don’t have enough information to make a decision and a decision must still be made then make the decision.

Somewhere inside all of us is the ability to make good decisions. Authentic Leaders reach within themselves and bring that ability to the surface. That “reach” begins with a willingness to risk being wrong. It includes an understanding that a wrong decision gives a leader more control over a situation than no decision at all.

Don’t try to hide behind a “no decision,” take a risk of being wrong and make a tough decision, who knows, you may be right.

Real Decisions Require Action

Making decisions can be a challenge. Making real decisions is even more challenging. A real decision is one that brings about action. Real action.

Real action causes something to change. It may not change much for you but whatever change is caused by your actions sends a ripple effect to those around you. Hopefully you understand that. It means that your decisions and the actions that result from them don’t only affect you, they affect the people around you as well. Your actions can have a big impact on those closest to you.

If you understand that then you should know the reverse is also true. You will be affected by the decisions and actions of the people around you. The closer those people are to you the bigger the impact.

That’s why it’s so important that your decisions lead to action. It’s not really a decision if nothing different happens because of it. Without action nothing different will happen. For those of you who believe it’s sometimes best to not make a decision you should know that a decision to not decide IS a decision. It’s a decision to allow the decisions and actions of others to control and shape your life.

You can make a decision to “stand pat” or “sit tight” or whatever you want to call it but unless virtually ever other person in the world also does nothing then something is going to change for you.

The change may be small and it may take some time for you to realize the change happened but it will happen. The only question is do you want change to happen to you or because of you? Do you want to control the change in your life or are you willing to allow the change to control you?

You can decide whatever you want but if the decision isn’t followed up by some sort of action then you might as well not have decided at all.

You may be only one decision away from an entirely different life. You may be only one decision away from being able to maintain the life you have. Whichever is the case both require that your decisions include an action step.

The decisions that affect your life are being made ever day. You must decide if you want input into the effects of those decisions or you’re willing to let someone else choose your path.

Happiness requires some control over your life. That control can only come from deciding what you want and then taking action to make it happen. As we head into 2020 I don’t think I’m going to wish anyone a Happy New Year. I think I’ll wish people an Active New Year!

The Courage to Lead

You can find lots of articles on leadership that talk about the characteristics required to lead. I’ve written several myself. The two I most often write about are integrity and judgment. Asking which one is more important is a lot like asking which came first the chicken or the egg.

I personally think much of the poor judgment we see and hear about stems from a lack of integrity. People try to hide their lack of integrity and make very poor judgments in the attempt. Rather than be honest about a potential skill gap they try hiding it and once again, that attempt to deceive causes a ton of poor judgment.

Whatever leadership characteristic you think is most important I believe there is one characteristic that all effective leaders possess. That characteristic is courage.

Leading is hard. It’s hard because leadership is about people. You can manage stuff but people must be led. People, all people, are emotional. They have hopes, dreams, challenges, and worries.

If you’re leading them, truly leading, you’re dealing with your emotions, your dreams, your challenges, and your worries, PLUS theirs. That is not easy.

Sometimes conflicts will arise. Authentic Leaders have the courage to confront those conflicts head on. Authentic Servant Leaders have the courage to confront those conflicts head on with a healthy dose of compassion added in.

One of the most serious failings I see from people in leadership positions is lacking the courage to deal with conflicts or even potential conflicts. They will go to great lengths to ignore the situation. They will tell themselves that time will “fix” the problem. They will tell themselves and sometimes other people that “they aren’t baby sitters” and people just have to work these things out on their own. That’s NOT leading.

Making decisions is another area that often requires courageous leadership. When a person in a leadership decision lacks courage they often simply don’t make the decisions required of a leader. What they fail to realize is that not making a decision IS a decision and it’s very often a wrong decision.

Sometimes people in leadership positions lack the courage to say no. When asked for something they know isn’t possible they answer with a “we’ll see” or a “let me think about it.” They know that “no” will be an unpopular answer and they lack the courage to make unpopular decisions. That’s NOT leading either.

Some days leading requires a huge amount of courage. Some days not so much. But courage is a constant in all Authentic Leaders. Possessing the courage to lead is a leadership characteristic not considered often enough. But I’d put it in my top three most important characteristics for a leader.

What about you…do you believe a leader should possess courage?

Vacuum Packed Decisions

Some decisions are easy to make. Some decisions are harder. Some decisions require a little information to make. Some decisions require a lot of information and some require a lot more than a lot. 

But every decision is a better decision when the information required to make the decision comes from multiple sources. Not all the information will be equally valuable. Some may even be worthless. But considering, if only for a moment, the value of information eventually deemed worthless makes for a more informed decision.

But some people in leadership positions disagree with that philosophy. They believe only their input is required. They believe they have enough experience, enough knowledge and good enough instincts that they don’t need additional viewpoints.

They are wrong. They are wrong even if the decision they made turns out to be right.

When people in leadership positions make decisions in a vacuum they demoralize their teams. They deny them the opportunity to learn how decisions are made. Their teams may begin to believe that vacuum packing decisions are the proper way to make decisions.

When people in leadership positions make decisions in a vacuum they deny themselves access to varying viewpoints and different life experiences. They lose all the experience that the members of their team bring to the organization.

When people in leadership positions make vacuum packed decisions they make poorer decisions. They hinder the growth of their organization and their people.

Authentic Leaders seek advice and consul from a wide variety of sources and people. They combine other people’s experience with their own and they have the courage to admit when someone else’s input makes more sense than their own.

Authentic Leaders make better decisions as a result. Even when the decision is wrong. The extra input and variety of viewpoints provide the Authentic Leader with fallback options when the initial decision goes off the rails.

A decision that provides the decision maker with additional options and alternatives is a great decision.

If you’re in a leadership position ask for input. It is not a sign of weakness it is a sign of courage and strength. And don’t ask for input only from those who think like you. Go after some far out thinking because if it does nothing else it will strengthen your confidence in the decision you ultimately make. But you never know, it may turn out that it’s not so far out after all, maybe it will help you make a much better decision than you otherwise would have.

Vacuums are good for cleaning up. They are not so good at helping someone make a decision. Unseal your brain and let some fresh ideas in now and then. The people affected by your decisions will thank you.

Change the Trajectory of Your Life

A little kid walks into a candy store with his dad and was amazed by the variety of treats to choose from.

 

“What should I choose? What should I choose? What should I choose?” He asked himself.

 

“Come on son, we don’t have all day,” his dad said.

 

“These are my favorites. No wait, these are my favorites.” He walked along the aisles, picking up bags and putting them back. He just couldn’t make up his mind.

 

“Come on son, make up your mind, we have to go,” his impatient dad said.

 

Frantically, the boy ran around the store, his eyes moving from one shelf to another, but all of the options looked so good and he couldn’t make a decision.

 

Eventually, the dad had enough, grabbed his son by the hand and they walked out of the store empty-handed. The young boy had tears in his eyes. He wanted them all, but ended up with nothing because he couldn’t choose just one.

 

At some point or another we have all been that little kid. The world we live in is that candy store and sadly, some people never do decide.

 

There are a ton of decisions to be made but if we don’t make a decision about our career, education, relationships, investments, church or other important issues, we end up empty-handed. 

 

Sometimes we worry about making the wrong choice so we just decide to delay the decision. Well, that delay is a decision. It’s a decision to not decide and that is almost always the wrong decision.

 

You are perhaps only one decision away from changing the entire trajectory of your life. If you’re not where you want to be it’s likely because of decisions you’ve made in the past or perhaps you’re where you are because of decisions you didn’t make. 

 

If you’ve hesitated to make that decision then that’s on you. It’s your life, you should be deciding as much as possible who and what is in it. 

 

Deciding isn’t all that hard. Making a decision however can be very challenging. What’s the difference you ask…well deciding is choosing to do something. Making a decision is actually doing it. 

 

No matter what you decide it’s not really a decision until you take action to make it happen. Good intentions are not a decision. 

 

Making a decision requires discipline. Discipline is best described as wanting something more tomorrow than the something you want today. Think of it like this: you want to weigh less tomorrow but you have ice cream in the freezer today. If your desire to weigh less is greater than your desire for ice cream then you’ll avoid the freezer. If not, well then enjoy the ice cream. 

 

Good decisions come from discipline. Bad decisions frequently come from a lack of discipline.


When you’re ready to change the trajectory of your life you’ll find the discipline you need to do it. Don’t just decide to do something, make the decision to actually do it.