Monday, February 13, 2012

A Bias for Action

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I found these words spontaneously coming out of my mouth when someone recently asked me about my leadership style. I didn't think about it carefully and I don't have a written leadership manifesto that I could've drawn from. I just reacted to the question in the moment, reflecting for just a second, asking myself what I'm consistently trying to achieve when consciously in leadership situations. Yeah, that's the ticket. A bias for action.

It's a nice sound byte, and I think I impressed the person I was speaking to. But the truth is, when it comes to having a bias for action, I fail far more often than I succeed.

It's hard, you see.

Six times out of ten, it's a crap shoot. No one, least of all me, knows what should be done and taking action in the face of such uncertainty takes courage and transparency--two attributes few of us really have in any great measure.

Three times out of ten I know what should be done but there are forces aligned against the action. Either we don't have the resources, or the people responsible for executing the action don't agree with me and have the power to derail it, or there is some other decision-maker whose blessing must be received before anything can more forward. Fighting those battles is not always difficult, but they are still battles that must be fought, delays in my quest for turning thought into action.

Only one time out of ten do the stars align. I know what needs to be done and the forces of execution are aligned with and not against the action. That's when it seems easy. That's when it seems like nothing can stand it my way. That's when people start asking me fawning questions about my leadership style.

But whatever the situation the bias for action must remain. Doing something when the way forward isn't clear, or when forces are aligned against you, is the mark of a true leader. If the only time you take action is that one chance in ten when the path makes itself clear then you're not really leading anything. You're following. And you may not even know who or what you're following.

Take action. You'll fail more often than you'll succeed, but you'll get better as time goes on, and you'll learn more than you thought possible about true leadership.

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