There comes a time in life when you’ve done all the thinking, study, analysis, and planning you can do. You reach a decision point. Then it happens. You freeze. You cannot go forward. You’re stuck.
The question is then, what are you waiting for? What is it that holds you back, makes you balk? How can you make the call?
Leadership is about being able to avoid waiting. Making decisions is the big “so what” about being a leader. As the leader, your team is waiting for you to decide. Which way are we going, if at all? When? How? While your ability to decide can make the difference, the timing of the decision is just as important.
First a story
I’ve often told the story of my banking experience during the implementation of ATM machines. The machines were new, unproven technology. Analysts agreed this was the next big thing. My bank had not yet entered the fight. The competition was running fast to adopt the technology.
We held a big executive summit with our senior leadership team. Case studies were prepared and presented. Our chairman and CEO, Ben Love, absorbed all of the information as only he could do. Then in the blink of an eye, he said “No, we’re going to wait this out. Let’s let the other guys get the arrows in their back.”
His analogy of course meant that pioneers were the ones who suffered the most when exploring new territory. We waited for a period, something like 18–24 months. Then we entered the market.
Not only did we avoid the high cost of early adoption failures (and there were many), but we dominated the space. We helped form the Pulse network which was the early version of the utility service that allowed all the machines to talk to each other and exchange transaction data. There was a cost to be on the network, a fee we profited from for quite some time.
In this case, Ben’s waiting was prudent, wise, and ultimately very profitable. However, too often the wait is a fail all its own.
The flip side
In 2000, Reed Hastings, the founder of a fledgling company called Netflix, flew to Dallas to propose a partnership with Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and his team. The idea was that Netflix would run Blockbuster’s brand online and Antioco’s firm would promote Netflix in its stores. Hastings got laughed out of the room.
We all know what happened next. Blockbuster went bankrupt in 2010 and Netflix is now a $28 billion-dollar company, about ten times what Blockbuster was worth. Today, Hastings is widely hailed as a genius, and Antioco is considered a fool. Yet that is far too unfair an explanation.
Antioco was, in fact, a very competent executive — many considered him a retail genius — with a long history of success. Yet for all his operational acumen, he failed to see that market forces were moving in a new direction.
Let’s make it personal
Yes, there are hundreds if not thousands of business case studies where CEOs failed to make the right call. But this issue is more personal. Each of us with any leadership duty at all, whether at work, at home, or in the community, face the challenge to make decisions on behalf of our tribe.
When we freeze in place, we jeopardize everything we may have been working on. Here are three main reasons we wait before making the decision. And a little something to do about each one.
Fear is the obvious and easy answer to why we wait. When faced with an unknown about the future we have fear. As the reality settles in that our decision may have big consequences, fear rises up.
Fear can be overcome by determination. When I sense fear about making a decision, I look first at those who rely on me. I ask the question, will they be better off moving forward or staying stuck where we are.
If the consequences of my decision will not directly harm my tribe, I can move ahead with more determination.
Confidence, or lack thereof, is a distant relative of fear. Building confidence as a leader is one of the most common expressions of concern I hear from my coaching clients. Lack of confidence causes us to wait.
There is not a good executive out there who hasn’t felt a little doubt from time to time, tugging at their confidence. Prior success only goes so far in helping to make new decisions with confidence. Yet building momentum as a leader can do more for confidence than anything else I know.
High achievers seldom celebrate wins in the day. Beating a deadline, making a delivery, and executing a difficult task, are all examples of wins you can and should be celebrating in your own way. I’m not talking about becoming arrogant. Rather I am talking about realizing the momentum that might be building on your team.
Celebrate that. Let it help build your confidence as a leader.
Yes, just old-fashioned procrastination can cause us to wait. Ironically, people with tendencies toward perfectionism are the biggest procrastinators I know. The logic goes like this. I need this to be perfect, so I’ll wait for the right time, resources, or events to align so that the outcome will be perfect.
Perfect is the enemy of good.
You don’t have to be perfect to be a winner. Success comes from action. Feel the urge to wait because of trying to be perfect? Decide first what good can look like. Then do it.
Question: What are you waiting for?