Leadership styles vary greatly when it come to initiating action. Some leaders are quick to move while others deliberate and process. The latter are more analytical and often find themselves in the trap of letting perfect be the enemy of the good.
Given that building momentum and getting a team to move is essential to leadership, it’s important that we optimize our ability to make decisions and initiate action. Here are three steps you can take to help you act, and, act now!
Have a bias for action.
In the early 2000s Teresa and I owned a house with an unfinished basement that we wanted to finish. As we discussed it more and more, I decided to investigate whether I was going to hire a contractor or swing the hammer myself.
Pretty quickly I decided that I did not have the money to hire someone to finish the basement. The tens of thousands of dollars it would cost was simply out of my budget.
Given that I don’t have a handy bone in my body, I went back and forth multiple times debating whether or not I had the skills necessary to do a good job myself.
Should I postpone the project or give it a try myself?
I simply could not make a decision. I felt like I never had enough information to know whether I was really capable or not.
Finally, 14 months into my decision-making process, a commitment to host a friend’s family who had recently moved into the area during their house-hunting, forced me to just start. As I tackled the project, I learned more about my ability to do each step along the way than I ever could have from books, discussions and research.
The clarity I received from taking a step forward greatly outweighed at least 12 of the 14 months of research I had done.
Within 3 weeks, the 2400 square foot basement was (all but) done — including a bathroom (I stink at finishing details, so, even though I decided to do it myself, the chair rail remained unfinished for the next two years!).
I had completed the framing myself, put in the electrical and hired someone to help with the drywall, while my friend took the job of master plumber. I had figured each component out according to my ability to do the job.
This experience taught me to have a bias for action. I have to be comfortable just jumping in and starting once I have “enough” information.
Of course, this bias for action must be tempered in situations where getting the decision right the first time is essential. If you’re doing heart surgery, years’ worth of study is absolutely appropriate. If you’re trying a new meeting cadence for your team – just go!
I’m continually amazed by the number of leaders who get stuck in the whirlwind of the day-to-day grind. They struggle to initiate action because they cannot find time to do it. Their biggest excuse for not changing is, “I don’t have time for that.”
As a leader, it’s our responsibility to continually look at what is the most important thing we should be doing right now and then discipline ourselves to do it.
If we fail to act due to a lack of prioritization, we become the cartoon with the cavemen using square wheels. We ignore the offer to upgrade to round wheels and continue to make the job harder for ourselves and our team. We continually push ourselves to work harder and harder and find ourselves falling further behind.
I have found that the best way to lead is to prioritize self-improvement, productivity and team optimization over nearly everything else. I have had to learn to discern what is truly urgent and critical. Only those that meet the highest standard of urgency and importance take precedence over process improvement. As a result, I’m able to continually improve performance, increase productivity, and accomplish more.
By prioritizing ruthlessly, we initiate a lot more action than we do waiting for the right time to get something done.
If it’s important enough to think about, it’s likely important enough to act on.
Figure out where it fits in your priority list, move it in front of your day-to-day and just get it done. It will likely net you more time and you will quickly catch up.
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of progress.
Now, here’s the catch. Sometimes initiating action quickly will net you an imperfect situation.
A while back I decided to optimize my morning routine. I had triangulated a few frustrations with my productivity with a book I was reading and some comments from a friend and had developed a hypothesis that I could boost my productivity by reorganizing the way I spent my mornings.
Given that this was a fairly low-risk venture – no one was going to die because I made the wrong decision – I simply decided to have a bias for action and move forward.
I prioritized ruthlessly. If I really felt this would boost my productivity, there was almost nothing I had on my plate that was more important. I decided to just sit down and map out the plan. Within an hour, a first stab at my new routine was mapped out.
Unfortunately, to implement it in its ideal state, I needed to move a series of phone calls and meetings around.
I had two choices. I could wait to implement my new routine until I was able to move everything on my calendar, or, I could move what I could move and implement the new routine to the degree possible.
I chose the latter. I’d rather start experimenting than wait for the stars to align.
Leaders create momentum. They initiate action and get folks moving. The next time you find yourself or your team stuck or sluggish, remind yourself to have a bias for action, to prioritize ruthlessly and to stop allowing perfect to be the enemy of progress.