In our society that rewards constant action, it is often hard to step back and reflect about where you have been, what you have learned, and where you should be going. However, leadership requires thinking and reflection as much as it is supposed to stimulate action. Many people I know are busy at doing the wrong things. They are working hard but not smart. Every day is just one more attempt to push the boulder up the hill and hope that at some point positive sustained momentum will push them over the top. Unfortunately as the slope of their climb increases the weight of their responsibilities also increases and the path they are treading becomes less predictable and stable. You can’t push forward into unchartered territory and not expect to learn some tough lessons along the way. If you are not careful, you may slip or fall and the boulder will roll right back over you.
If I had a $100 for every time sometime told me something couldn’t be done by me or others, I’d be a rich man at this point in my life. The cold reality of life is that most people are followers and more comfortable with the status quo than the prospect of changing anything. There is also a big difference between rhetoric and action. I’d be equally wealthy if I had a $100 for everyone I met who talked a good game but then failed to follow-up with any real action. It seems as if a majority of people are content to sit on the sidelines of the game that is their own life and leave their fate to the actions of others and then complain about it. Like most fans, people have strong opinions about what should or should not be happening, but then they don’t have the courage, talent or fortitude to play the game themselves. It is a vicious circle and misery does love company.
I don’t remember growing up in a fearful society, but I feel like I live in one now. All you have to do is turn on the TV, listen to the radio, read the newspaper and eventually someone will be trying to scare you about something. We all seem so emotionally fragile and quick to identify an enemy or cause for our concern. The news media has perfected this art so well that they have helped to perpetuate a more neurotic generation in a time when just about every violent crime statistic is down significantly or at minimum on par with what existed when we were children (and our population has grown significantly during this time). As the saying goes, if it bleeds than it leads.”
It shouldn’t take a crisis to force action, but many leaders seem to operate this way. As a result, a large number of companies are always in a reactive mode and waiting for external or internal stimuli to prompt action. Unfortunately, this type of mindset tends to lead to increased time pressures and higher margin for error. Life and business tends to reward those who take proactive control of their future and penalizes others who yield too much control to other factors. In essence, the sooner you take positive action the higher the likelihood you will navigate whatever storms come your way or even prevent the storms from happening in the first place.
Life does not reward those that hesitate. One of the hardest things to teach young athletes is to get them to think before they act. They often are used to just plowing ahead regardless of the consequences or the rules. It is a difficult balancing act because if you are not careful they will begin to think too much and lose their natural athletic instincts. In addition, you will play into their natural fears of making a mistake or being wrong. And, in any sport, once you hesitate or pause, you give the other person the advantage by moving into reactive not proactive mode.
I’ve sat through a large number of seminars with many leaders and one thing always sticks out. The most successful business people I know don’t just listen to and absorb information, they act on it. This doesn’t mean they act on everything they hear, but when something does resonate with them, they tend to move quickly to make changes.
Many leaders I know struggle initially with the idea that the most value they bring to their company or organization is their ability to think not act. Of course, thought without action is meaningless. However, the top people in any organization need to regularly step back and reflect on strategic implications, priorities, etc.