Dan Waldschmidt lists the number one radical belief of super-star business leaders as “Just because you aren’t sure what to do doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything.”
It’s scary to take a risk. When fear comes calling, the first instinct is for self-preservation, and the result is procrastination. Great ideas never get implemented. Strategic plans go in binders on shelves. Opportunities get missed. The leader didn’t go for it. Too much risk aversion disqualifies you from leadership. Maybe it’s great to have in the finance department, but not at the top. Instead of getting all these consequences, create an atmosphere of “going for it”!
One of the distinctives of great leaders in history and in business today who truly achieved great results and produced truly consequential change are ones who took calculated but significant risks that paid off. They bet the farm on ideas that led to breakthroughs. And people follow leaders who undertake meaningful changes connected to a strategy. It’s like they are waiting to see someone go big.
We aren’t talking about deciding on emotions—you never win based on emotion-based decisions. We are talking about winning by creating a big idea, taking the first step, then another, then another—and seeing if momentum comes along for the ride. Executing on the idea. When you have the Big Mo of momentum on your side, it’s like a snowball rolling downhill.
So, what stops us from starting? No one wants to make a mistake, but it’s paralyzing to live life and to lead a business that way because of all you miss out on. You have to develop a tolerance of mistakes made in pursuit of company vision and goals. Now, not the mistakes that would get you featured negatively in your local newspaper. Nope, zero tolerance for those. And not the same mistakes, mind you. That’s just not learning and growing and displays a recklessness that hurts the team. But if you are moving forward and expecting to not make any mistakes, it’s just not reality. It’s a good sign! One company I heard of celebrates the Best Mistake Award each quarter; they actually praise the person who took a calculated risk and it didn’t work out–because it showed initiative!
Over-planning is another obstacle to starting. This is when you have staff meetings with the same discussion topic week after week with no decision or game plan developed to move forward. Staff members from many businesses tell me that this happens frequently in their meetings, and it starts to create apathy in them for meeting together, as well as to lower respect for their leader. Or, how about the constant kicking of the issue to a “committee” or “task force” or a teammate that has no deadline to get a specific task done? Frustrating!
One personality style doesn’t have any problem with just starting: the high “D”, driver, dominant, lion-like style. They eat initiative for lunch! But if you struggle with pulling the trigger on the first step of an initiative where the outcome is uncertain, use the most action-oriented core team members to “push” you to make the call and hit the go-button. Ask them to call you on it when you are the one stopping the change from happening, because I believe that leaders are the actual ones who prevent change from happening, not the employees. Also, ask them to call you on any time that you start losing your nerve in the middle of an implementation plan and start getting all negative on the potential for success before it’s been seen through. No one wants to follow a non-courageous or passive leader (sounds like an oxymoron to me!); so, even though being called out is uncomfortable, your non-fear-based response will gain you followership.
One of the seven habits of highly effective people is to be proactive. Train yourself to, as soon as a problem presents itself and you don’t know what to do, go find a way to get some ideas on solving it. It might be making a call or sending an email right away to a trusted mentor or community leader that you respect. It might be Googling the topic to see who else has given it some thought. Or it might be just blocking time on your calendar in the next 48 hours to brainstorm ten ways to go after it (by yourself or with your team or with a Mastermind group of other community leaders). Block the problem-solving time off as if it was a meeting with someone else that you’d never cancel. Then obey your calendar.
One other place to take initiative is in helping your team reach their potential. Human nature shows that employees will gravitate to the lowest expectations and the least effort to get their job done to be paid and keep their jobs. Most will not come clamoring to you for stretch assignments. Then it behooves you to consider each employee and how they can rise to another level every year under your leadership.
Think of leadership as being the pace car for your business. In a NASCAR race, the pace car gets the race started and spreads everyone out–and then it gets out of the way. Everyone then uses their talents in the race. Same in your business: When you step out first and people can see your commitment to the course of action, they line up behind you and start to implement the change in the way they are gifted. Once that happens, you just keep the track clear for them to do their jobs well. Just start, as if the whole thing depended on you, but then release the details to your team, as if it all depended on them.
So, you are a combination of two awesome leadership skills: You are assertive and you are relational. Assertiveness is the tendency to lead, direct, initiate, organize, volunteer, and take responsibility. Being relational is the tendency to be concerned for others, friendly, approachable, sacrificial. It’s getting things going and staying close to the people who carry out your requests.
Another metaphor is the conductor of an orchestra. The musicians are highly capable of playing their instruments with the best in the world. They don’t need the conductor to sit next to them and play along. They need just a few simple, but important roles for their conductor to play with that baton in his/her hand: to tell them when to start, to keep the pace pleasant to the ears, and to tell them when to stop. It’s unlikely there will be a unified start without the conductor, just as it is unlikely your team will head down a new path without you taking the initiative and directing it.
Avoid inaction. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait for all the data; you’ll never have enough. Decide to put yourself a bit more on the line. You will know you are growing in this area if you go from a risk-minimizer to a risk-taker to a risk-creator. Effective leaders authorize themselves to get the ball rolling to advance the business.
Got some big dreams, but hesitating in turning them into action plans and tangible goals? I can help you. Take the initiative and reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org today.