Why Are You Hesitating?

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. 

Which Table are You Sitting At?

Playing it safe is comfortable. Playing it safe is easy. Doing what you’ve always done is both comfortable and easy. 

 

Being comfortable and doing what’s easy are also the fastest way to have less of everything in your life than you deserve.

 

Almost every person on earth wants to be “better” tomorrow than they are today. Everyone defines “better” a little differently but for everyone tomorrow’s “better” means different than today. So for anything to be better tomorrow something must change today. 

 

Change often comes with risk and most people don’t particularly like either one. So they hope for something different while lamenting the sameness of their every day life. 

 

I’m okay with hoping but change doesn’t come from hope. “Better” doesn’t come from hope. Change for the better only comes from action. If you’re not willing to act then hope all you want but don’t expect to have anything better tomorrow than you have today. 

 

You must be willing to accept the risk that comes with trying something new if you’re going to do more than just hope for something better. You must be willing to accept some risk in your life if you want something or someone new in your life. 

 

Don’t stop hoping but add action to your hope. Having better requires doing better. Having more requires doing more. Your dreams won’t come true unless YOU make them come true. 

 

Hope by itself is not the answer to any shortcomings you may have in your life or business. If you’re not eating your meals at the table of risk then you’re dreams are almost certainly on the menu. 

 

Someone else’s menu.

 

Either accept some risks and take action to achieve your goals or you will find yourself being hired by someone else to help them take risks to achieve theirs. It will be one or the other…it is always one or the other. 

 

Which one do you think is more rewarding? 

 

Don’t sit in the comfortable chair at the table of safe. Move to the table of risk and give yourself a real chance at “better.” Pick the small table at first if that helps you make progress just make sure it is not too small to lead to success. 


Remember, it’s by risking nothing that you actually risk everything!


The Importance of Initiative

I was waiting for a flight a couple of weeks ago when the guy sitting next to me struck up a conversation. He asked what I did for a living and after explaining what I do I returned the question and asked what he did for a living. 

 

He kind of had two answers. He said he worked for the last 9 years as a sales rep for a medical device company but that was merely what he did to earn a paycheck. He then said that he was actually “an idea man.” 

 

When I asked him to explain he said that he came up with new and better ways of doing things. Intrigued, I asked him for a couple of examples and then he talked for several minutes without taking a breath. This guy had an idea for just about everything. He “knew” how to fix healthcare, solve the immigration mess, make a better cell phone, better batteries, he had several ideas on improving the United States banking system, it just went on and on. 

 

When I asked what he was doing with his ideas he seemed a little puzzled. He mumbled something about being “the idea man” but leaving the action to somebody else. I just smiled politely and luckily my flight was called shortly after that.

 

I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that leaving the “action” to someone else most likely meant leaving the success to someone else too.

 

As I thought about this guy a little later it dawned on me that he was just like a whole lot of people. He was filled with a ton of ideas, at least some of them surely actionable but he lacked the initiative to act. He was one of those “somebody ought to do something” people who just never thought about the fact that they are somebody.

 

Here’s the thing, you can have all the ideas in the world but if you lack initiative then you almost certainly lack the ability to achieve your full potential. You may achieve some limited success but it will be just that…limited.

 

Make no mistake, if you sit around waiting for someone to do something eventually someone will and right after that they will tell you what to do and they might keep telling you for the rest of your life. 

 

Initiative is defined as the ability to initiate things independently. The definition is only about getting started. Having initiative doesn’t mean you must know exactly how what you initiate will end. It doesn’t mean that you have to have all the answers to every question before you begin. 

 

It simply means you do something, begin something independently, because you can. Everyone can. 

 

Don’t wait for someone else to act on your good ideas, take action, take a risk, step into the unknown and see where it leads. If it doesn’t work out you’ve gained valuable experience, if it does work out you have gained at least a measure of success. 


Somebody ought to do something and that somebody ought to be you!


Mind Your Gaps

I had the opportunity several years ago to sit in on a presentation to a group of senior leaders. The presentation was from a speaker who uses Civil War history to teach leadership lessons. 

As someone who was required to take Military History as part of my high school curriculum I can tell you that military battles offer great insights into leadership successes and failures. I was excited to hear the presentation. 

The presentation focused on The Battle of Gettysburg which began on July 1st, 1863. During the first hours of battle, Union General John Reynolds was killed while leading his troops from the front. Outnumbered, the union forces were stymied for a time and it took awhile for them to regroup.

After sharing the story of the early hours of that famous battle the presenter asked the assembled group of senior leaders whether or not General Reynolds made the right decision in leading from the front. He had exposed himself to enemy fire and left his troops without his leadership as a result.

The leadership team in the room had differing opinions as to the wisdom of General Reynolds decision. Some thought it better if he had “lead from the rear” thus protecting himself from direct conflict. They felt that he jeopardized the mission by putting himself in harms way. You could see their point considering that his death did seem to slow down the union forces for a time. 

Others thought he showed true leadership by putting himself out front. Their point was that a leader shouldn’t ask their people to do something that they as a leader were unwilling to do. They also pointed out that since the Union forces eventually won his decision was proven correct. Also a good point. 

But here’s what I truly found fascinating; most had an opinion. They had this opinion in spite of having very little actual information about how the battle unfolded. There were a lot of “gaps” in the story of the battle as presented. (I’m sure the presenter did that mostly in the interest of time)

So how did this room full of top leaders come to an opinion with so little information? How did they know if General Reynolds had made the right decision despite the “gaps” in the story?

They did what all leaders, all people actually, do when they need to make a decision without all available information….they filled in the gaps with information from their own experiences. 

As I observed these key leaders offer their opinions I knew immediately which ones would accept risk in a decision and which ones would be more cautious…perhaps too cautious to lead in difficult circumstances. 

Those who believed that Reynolds had made the right call were willing to accept some level of risk and those who thought he had made the wrong call likely were not willing to accept that same level of risk. 

If time had permitted and the presenter had filled in the gaps himself then the audience wouldn’t have needed to supplant the story with their own experiences. In that case I really would not have been able to assess their appetite for risk. 

That same scenario plays out in business all the time. Leaders and their people make decisions even when they don’t have all the information that they wish they had. They simply use information from their own life history to fill in the gaps. 

That’s why two smart people, presented with identical, if incomplete information, can reach such differing conclusions. 

As a leader it is imperative that you know you’re people well. The better you know them and especially the better you understand them, the better you’ll understand the information they use to fill in their gaps. 

It’s also vital that you understand where your own “gap filling” information comes from. 

Understanding how both you and your people mind their gaps will help you see how two very different conclusions could both seem correct. 

Now, as to General Reynolds…the only mistake we can actually confirm he made was getting himself shot. As a good military leader he knew full well that his ultimate goal was not dying for the North, his ultimate goal was making as many Confederate troops as possibly die for the South. 

In that effort he failed completely.

Change is Not Optional

Most people (how’s that for a wide generalization) don’t like change. Actually, they are okay with change so long as the change doesn’t affect them personally. The worst change of course is the kind that impacts some long held belief or tradition. 

But today, in a world where “traditions” are increasingly tossed aside, where organizations are told that they must innovate or face extinction, change is not optional. The very next innovation could be the one that extends the life of your organization or sends it to the ash heap of the formerly successful innovators. 

But here’s the problem; organizations can’t innovate, only people can.

I was once asked how to teach people to be innovative. My answer was almost instinctive, I said you don’t teach people to innovate, you hire innovative people. Upon further reflection I’d answer that you hire people who care about making a difference and people who want to “leave something behind” for their organization. You then place them in an innovative environment.

Innovation is a people driven process and what makes it so challenging is that people are emotional. They constantly, if even subconsciously, balance risk with reward. 

Even though the desire to innovate may be high the need for safety and security is higher. It’s the fear of losing that security that prevents innovative people from innovating.

That’s why organizations that want to be around in 25 years require especially strong leadership. Not just strong leadership “at the top,” but strong leadership at every level of the organization. 

Those strong leaders must provide an environment where failure is not just tolerated but celebrated as a step forward and and a learning opportunity. Those leaders must provide an environment where well considered risk is not just allowed but encouraged, maybe even demanded.

Much of the technology used in business today was unimaginable by most people just 10 or 15 years ago. The speed at which technology is changing and improving is increasing literally every day. It is truly unimaginable what that technology will look like in a mere 5 years. 

This much we do know: if you’re a leader and you’re not providing your people an environment where taking thoughtful risk is encouraged and occasional failure is risk free then your people will fight the change needed to succeed tomorrow.

If you’re a leader who wants continued success then take charge of change before change takes charge of you.

 

Did Curiosity Kill the Cat?

As the saying goes… curiosity killed the cat. I don’t actually think that’s true. The cat might be dead but I’d say it was more likely bad planning than curiosity that did the kitty in.

I’d say that because one of the most common characteristics of successful people is curiosity. Their need to know how something works, their need to understand why it works that way, and their need to know if there is a better way for it to work pushes them to try new things. 

Successful people are seldom willing to merely accept the status quo. 

They take risks. Not wild risks but well thought out, well measured and well considered risks. Their curiosity, or need to know, drives them to expose the “as is” to the possibilities of the “could be.” They know that without a doubt good enough never really is good enough. 

Successful people develop a plan that allows them to minimize the downside of risk taking. They understand the potential for failure and they are willing to accept that risk. What they won’t accept is the failure that comes from not trying, or the failure that comes from a lack of curiosity. 

Successful people know that never taking a risk is the riskiest move they can make. 

When you ask a truly successful person “why do you do it that way?” you will never hear, “because we have always done it that way.”  They know exactly why they do what they do and why something is done a certain way because their curiosity has motivated them to learn.

I’d bet a bunch a money that if curiosity really did kill the cat that the cat thought learning something new was worth the risk and hey, at least the cat died knowing. 😊

So what about you? Are you the type of cat that needs to know? Will you allow curiosity to fuel your success? 

I, and you, need to know….

 

How Leaders Think

First a couple of qualifiers: not all leaders think the same and not all leaders are always thinking about the things discussed in this post. But generally speaking, all successful leaders think in these terms and while they have many other thoughts, at one time or another these things are top of mind. So here we go….

Great leaders focus on the mission. Leaders are frequently pulled toward unusual and urgent events that force them in different directions. While these often require the attention of the leader they don’t lose sight of the higher intent of the organization. When the challenge has been dealt with they return their focus to the mission and purpose of the organization. They know where they need to go and they have an actionable plan to get there. They think mission first!

Great leaders are great coaches. They actively look for opportunities to coach their people with the goal of growing more leaders. They coach for corrective action and they coach for positive reinforcement. They delegate to grow their people knowing full well that mistakes might be made. Great leaders also know that those mistakes provide highly valued learning opportunities. Great leaders think coaching, coaching, coaching. 

Great leaders are great examples. They know that people will do what they see their leaders doing. They know that they are the example of successful behavior for their people. They understand that they set the example of good character, knowing their job and doing what matters. They preform as they would have their people perform and they do not expect more from their people then they expect of themselves. Great leaders know the way, go the way and lead the way. Great leaders think in terms of setting an example as much or more than they think of anything else.

Great leaders value and leverage diversity. They know that true diversity goes beyond Equal Employment and Affirmative Action laws. True diversity is understanding, valuing, and leveraging the differences in every person. They seek out differing opinions from people with different backgrounds and demonstrate that people are valued for their uniqueness. Great leaders know that to continue their personal growth they must interact with people who have opinions different from their own and who feel empowered to express them. Great leaders think about broadening the diversity of their organizations. 

Great leaders accept risk. They accept well considered, well calculated risks. They don’t act with reckless abandon, they gather facts, they measure, they ask for advice and then they decide. They decide. They decide, that means that they make a decision. Great leaders know that all the facts, all the advice and all the opinions in the world don’t amount to much if a decision is never made. They think risk and they think about when and why to take them.

The simple truth is that leaders think differently than followers. Leaders see a bigger picture and they see farther into the future. Leadership is as much about mindset as it is anything, if you want to lead then start thinking (and acting) like a leader.