Not Leading is Not Leadership

Leaders Who Can't Communicate

I’m currently in the middle of Mike Myatt’s Hacking Leadership: The 11 Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets to Closing Them Quickly. In the chapter entitled “Hacking Mediocrity,” he says…

The reality is not making a decision is still a decision, it’s usually just not the right decision. …Great leaders don’t find safety by sticking their head in the sand, they find safety in consistently making good decisions. However, the greatest security is found by teaching others to make great decisions and then granting them the responsibility and authority to make them.

Imagine a meeting of your senior staff with a company consultant in which your executive director is absent. The consultant asks, “What is ED’s vision for this organization?” And no one can answer.

When asked what my struggles are as a leader, the first thing that comes to mind are my perfectionistic tendencies that border on the obsessive-compulsive. I can get very detailed. This has threatened to suspend my making decisions indefinitely. While I’ve learned to reserve some areas of judgement for which my analytical mind is best suited–like communications, for instance–I’ve forced myself to learn the art of letting go. Because nothing is more significantly undercuts people’s faith in you.

Here are 4 reminders I tell myself:

[ ] Make the Decision Making Process Rote

The Appalachian Mountain Club outlines the decision making process as something along the lines of…

  1. clearly identify the need,
  2. brainstorm possibilities,
  3. evaluate possibilities,
  4. make a decision,
  5. initiate plan, and
  6. evaluate outcomes.

Internalize this process so that it becomes second nature. As a leader, the onus is frequently upon you to clearly identify the need to those involved in the decision making process then facilitate the larger discussion or procedure surrounding the decision.

[ ] Further the Conversation Immediately

One of my mentors in management used to say, “Immediate Execution,” which tended to frighten people. Leaving information sitting is anathema. The goal is to play hot potato with information; the name of the game is “share information quickly,” making your contributions. Progress forward, whether you’re furthering discovery, martialing input, or strategizing.

Distinguish incoming information that should be FYI and just say thank you. Most remaining information should be redirected for a decision from staff at the point of impact. Empower them to do so and forward that information immediately by email or text, …maybe a phone call if you call right then.

Some decisions should be made collaboratively, but most “can-we-meet” people should be politely but stubbornly be redirected either to the point of impact or into open discussions via email or a chat IRL. If the need for the latter is legitimate, then schedule it immediately for the imminent future. Make the objective of that meeting–maybe every meeting–to move that information toward the point of impact. In my experience, you should not be answering mundane “yes-or-no” questions. Instead, you should be asking “why” questions. Such as: Why can’t my staff make these kinds of decisions unsupervised?

What about those few decisions that do merit deeper, lengthier consideration by you and/or a select few. Immediately pass on the information with a “What do you think?” and…

[ ] Set a Time Limit for Consideration

Certainly do your due diligence. A reasonable period of discovery is totally appropriate. Your team can wait if they know what they’re waiting for. People will respect your giving a decision the consideration it’s due, but they will not respect indecision.

There is a leader I greatly respect for whom I never worked. She was my partner’s boss. And one technique we both learned from her, when she was asked to consider something, she immediately pulled out her calendar and marked off the next available hour, or two hours, half-day or full day. Whatever time she felt the decision merited, she carved out time to dedicate in her work schedule.

I used to tell people, “If you don’t hear from me by this time tomorrow, go ahead.” It was an early attempt at keeping the ball rolling while managing my decision making time. It was an impoverished attempt.

Be active. You determine how much time you’re going to give this. Draw a line in the sand for yourself, communicate it to others, and honor that contract with those looking to you for leadership.

[ ] Remind Your Followers What They’re Following

Whether you’re proverbially “turning an aircraft carrier on a dime” or waiting for winds of change to bring your organization out of the doldrums, people need something to hold onto. Forgive my mixing metaphors, but in the absence of a running plot, people will invent their own narrative and either mutiny, subvert or jump ship.

A lesson I learned from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) is that you must recognize when the group dynamic is in jeopardy because the members don’t understand what is happening …or what is going to happen. NOLS instructors are characterized by their seizing windows of opportunity just to touch base with the group about what is going on, even if that means being honest that you really don’t know what is going on. People can handle challenges, mistakes, even lack of direction if you’re open and honest about it.

[ ] Push the Damned Trigger, Already

I nurture an inward sense of urgency that eventually trumps my perfectionism with the above phrase screaming in my mind. I’ve been guilty of indecision in the past. Not anymore. These are the thoughts that get me through, and I won’t be indecisive any more. Neither should you. And if this is you, I guarantee this is what your staff is thinking.

Every management guru I read agrees: don’t let your fear of making mistakes make you impotent. Mistakes in themselves are a signature of growth and creativity. If I’m unwilling to be a leader who makes mistakes, I’m unwilling to lead. And let’s be honest, I don’t have the serious significance to make seriously significant mistakes. You’re not carrying the key codes to the nuclear apocalypse.

…Unless you are. In which case, I’d really like to know you’re reading my blog. Tweet me @1jlh1!

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