In the intro to the book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, author Charlie Mackesy notes, “When I was making the book I often wondered, who on earth am I to be doing this? But as the horse says, ‘the truth is, everyone is winging it.’”
As leaders we may think, or at the very least want others to think, that we have it all figured out. How many times, however, are we called on to make choices where there are no rules, no precedent, to guide our decision-making? Sure, we have experience to inform our decisions. We have gut instinct. We can extrapolate from other leaders or industries. Yet, in many a case, when we make a decision we are well and truly winging it.
If you are an emerging leader and I have just burst your bubble about the calm assurance you are striving for, perhaps the best I can offer is that, over time, you will become calmer and more assured in how you go about winging it. You will come to recognize that stepping into a decision, with no guarantee it is the right one, is part of being a leader. As a leader, you get to take a chance on . . .
. . . A job candidate who doesn’t have the experience that others do, but something about them is compelling . . .
. . . A strategic initiative that a host of people you respect have tried to talk you out of, and yet you believe will position your agency for long-term success . . .
. . . Speaking out on a cause or issue you believe needs to be highlighted, even at risk of losing supporters who see things differently . . .
Truth be told, much of leadership is made of such decisions. Management is about creating stability — following proven processes and approaches. Leadership is about creating change. Change is hard, and the outcome is not assured. Even when we have considered a range of scenarios and variables, change still involves the unknown and the unexpected. It often takes longer, costs more, and presents twists and turns not anticipated by even the most experienced leader.
Of course, that’s why we need leaders in the first place — to make a decision, pivot when necessary, and motivate followers to embrace the vision and bring it to life . . . even when there are no guarantees. Gather data? Yes. Get input from others? Absolutely. But in the end, it’s your call. Do you have the courage to step out and wing it?