Do Something!

Mature businessman presenting to colleagues at a meeting

There is one clear difference between effective leaders and people who merely hold positions of leadership. Effective leaders do things. Those who simply inhabit the positions intended for leaders talk about doing things. They plan, they call meetings, they ask questions and hire consultants. They tabulate the input on spreadsheets and write reports . . . which they have committees review and refine, and then send to other committees who table the discussion until some future meeting on an unspecified date. (Trust me, I am not exaggerating!)

Let me be clear. I am not saying planning, gathering input and refining the strategy are not very important tasks. I absolutely think they are. However, 1) that process does not have to be a complex, mind-numbing nine-month trudge, and 2) the critical final piece of the process is to do something! Think about it. When someone highlights a leader’s accomplishments, do you ever hear them talk about their amazing meetings, or how good they are at analyzing the pros and cons of complex variables? No, accomplishments require making a decision, choosing a path, committing resources, and then doing it, whatever it may be.

I understand that the stakes may be high, and the consequences for making the wrong decision can be significant. What some people in positions of leadership fail to realize is that there are also significant consequences to not making a decision — nothing happens! No opportunity seized, no progress made, no goals accomplished.

Granted, many times a leader does not have as much information as he or she might want to be completely confident that one path or the other is the right direction. However, if it was a sure bet, a grand slam, clearly the only way forward, then the organization wouldn’t need a leader to make the decision. Any reasonable person can identify a sure thing! Effective leaders make judgment calls. Are they right every time? Of course not. But I can guarantee you’ll never hit a home run unless you decide to swing at a few pitches.

Effective leaders focus on what their organization could gain by making a decision. Those who have been placed in positions intended for leaders focus more on what they could lose if they make the wrong decision, not recognizing that their waffling causes them to lose opportunities anyway. Effective leaders consider the risks in their decision-making, but in relation to the potential reward, not as a standalone dark cloud.

There is no magic bullet, no one thing that moves someone from simply inhabiting a position of leadership to being an effective leader, but one action that is a part of the puzzle every single time . . . you have to do something!

Leadership Bifocals

EyeglassesIn my interactions with participants in the Chaddock Leadership Academy, I often talk about the need for leaders to wear bifocals. And, just as you have to be careful not to trip when you first start wearing actual bifocals (yes, this is the voice of experience!) you also have to get used to the changes in perspective as a leader when you move from looking through the up close to the distance portions of your leadership lens.

Most seasoned leaders will spend the majority of their day looking through the distance (or strategic) portion of their lens, scanning the horizon and staying attuned to new variables that may come into their peripheral view. They can take note of changing scenery, how others around them are responding to the surroundings, and whether they need to change course to avoid a collision. It is no accident that the distance portion of the lens is the largest part of the viewing area, both in actual and in leadership bifocals.

The smaller portion of the lens is for up close work, for the details that need a different type of magnification. It is important that this component is there — you really do have to be able to read the fine print — but as a leader if you spend all your time looking down at the details, sooner or later you (and your organization) are likely to walk face-first into a tree.

One challenge for leaders, especially new leaders, is that it is often easier to feel like you are accomplishing things when your focus is on the smaller “reader” portion of your lens. When you use this focus, you get to check things off a list, there are more concrete tasks and black and white responsibilities, and frankly you may feel more productive. There are many days where leaders, taking the broader perspective, don’t really “finish” much. It may take months, and in some cases years, to see the results of an effort. And sometimes, the biggest accomplishment of all is the crisis averted, where something not happening is actually the indicator of success.

I find that when there are big picture challenges with no easy answers, when you feel like you are simply spinning your wheels with no clear path forward, it is natural to want to look down, to switch to a different part of the lens where answers come more easily. In most cases, this is exactly the wrong thing to do. To find answers to the hardest and most critical dilemmas, it is important to stick with the long view, to push through the gray to the clarity on the other side of complexity.

No one said it would be easy, but even the haziest view can become clearer with a good set of bifocals.