Why is it so hard to take action sometimes? I think the genius behind Nike’s “Just do it” campaign is that it feels empowering and a little reckless to many people to just take action. Throw caution to the wind. Stop talking and just do something, anything. The attraction with Nike’s slogan is that most people want to be that kind of person, bold and decisive, but find in reality they are not. They wait and analyze the questions and issues before them way to long before taking action and by the time they do something, the moment is gone and the impact of the action has dissipated. They suffer from “paralysis by analysis”. In your personal life it can create significant stress, damage relationships and delay the achievement of your goals indefinitely. In your professional life, it can be career ending.
As a leader, people look to you to make decisions every day that impact their work environment and the success of the team. Decisiveness is one of the qualities an exceptional leader needs to possess. In leadership, if you take too long to make decisions or avoid making them all together, you will absolutely handicap your effectiveness and limit the success of the team.
The reality is that you will rarely have all the information you need or would like to have before the time comes for you to make a decision and take action. In most cases, you will be lucky to have 60% of the information you need, and this is where you come to the proverbial “fork in the road”. You can try to push the timing and delay taking action beyond the point of being reasonable and effective, or you can take the most appropriate action now based on the information you have on hand.
It’s a real balancing act, weighing your desire to make the right decision with your need to respond in a timely manner. But the best leaders identify a point where they discern that they need to stop gathering information and discussing options, and they need to move forward, make the best decision possible and take action. It’s true, if you take action before you have all the facts there may be times when you get a piece of information after the fact that will force you to retract or rethink a decision. But if it happens, just take responsibility and immediately correct the situation.
In my experience, those occasions where you have to undo a decision because of information received after the fact will be few and far between as long as you are making solid decisions with the information you have. More damage is actually done by leaders being perpetually indecisive and taking no action at all rather than by those who occasionally make the wrong decision.
Leaders who are indecisive create a power vacuum and if they are not careful, they may find their influence waning over time. The truth is that teams, like nature, abhor a vacuum. If you are indecisive and do not step up to take action, someone on your team will eventually do it for you. The result over time will be that team members will stop coming to you for decisions because you take too long and instead, they will ask the “unofficial leader” of your team what to do.
Make sure you practice being decisive and taking action. If you struggle in this area, push your comfort zone a little and practice making decisions a bit earlier than you would normally. Get feedback from your team, your boss and co-workers about your effectiveness when it comes to taking action. Find a co-worker or mentor who is skilled and comfortable taking decisive action and learn from their process.
In closing, I leave you with the words of the great Norman Vincent Peale:
“Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all.”
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