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Opportunities Lost: What Stops Us From Doing Something About What We See?
By J. Allen | Updated 2022 | Published August 22, 2017
Everyone Leading…Could It Be So Simple?
No matter what level of an organization you work in, every day there are endless opportunities to take meaningful action. But what is the right time? What is the right side to take? What is the right approach? What if others disagree? All legitimate concerns. We’ve all been there, regretting not speaking up and not engaging, or even not talking to others to get some help in taking action. Maybe we were tired, too busy or legitimately afraid of failing.
Were you born to take action, or did you grow into the ability? We already know that the combination of knowing stuff (OK for purists…research and the sort), paying attention (noticing…intuition) and trying stuff (experience…we all have this…remember it started in kindergarten) is really all we need to see something worth leading. It’s true – everyone leads at something!
What if Nike has it right? What if we just need to “just do it”? Just show up, or speak out? What if leading is merely taking action, or taking a stance? It’s possible it is not so much an art or science, but the courage to just do the right thing. A provocative thought – simple hesitation may be the primary enemy of leadership.
When Are You Ready?
Leadership can’t be so simple as “just doing it,” right? What about all the preparation, all the training, all the skills listed in bullet point format in those books and articles? Of course, formal instruction will make you a better leader. You can also learn from others, reduce stupid mistakes, develop new skills and refine some old skills. But how will you truly know when you are really ready?
You won’t know. There is no simple test; there are no universal criteria. The opportunity will present itself and it will be up to you to take the risk. If you pay attention, notice and read each situation, you’ll see these moments as opportunities to do something meaningful – to demonstrate your leadership skills, even if temporarily hidden or denied.
Leadership is a Muscle – Use It More
It’s important to actively recall those times when you “just did it” and showed up as the leader everyone needed. The size or impact of the action makes no difference…it is the memory of trying that opens the door to many more exciting and gratifying leadership opportunities for making a difference, getting things done. Leadership is a muscle that grows over time. What a pleasant surprise when you make a difference simply by taking action, whether you are in a position of authority or not.
Upon a few repetitions, patterns emerge about methods, tools, and techniques others use to get things done. You learn to apply those that seem the best fit for you. You may pick up some hints from books and articles, but the great value comes from the trying and doing—because now you are curious, believing, and interested in refinement. You are focused on things that will really make a difference.
Take note: this is a muscle that’s difficult to neglect. There’s no stopping the practice once you start. Leadership growth and effectiveness come from just doing it in evermore challenging and complex situations. When you notice stuff that needs doing and you cannot rest until it is done. When you reach this point and are about to tip over from the effort—you will realize you need to bring some of your colleagues along on this journey. Carefully look around you. There is likely at least one other person or organization that agrees with your viewpoint (usually many more than one agree but are unwilling to state their concurrence). Let them share in your leadership, and your days will become more fulfilling and less harrowing. Leadership is a team sport.
What Stops You From Doing Something About What You See?
It’s really quite simple – it’s about your motivation and where you seek fulfillment. How would you respond to these two questions?
- Are you dependent on leaders in your organization for your fulfillment and fun at work?
- Are you leading and helping others achieve greater fun and fulfillment in their work?
If you answer “yes” to question one, you might want to start thinking about how you can seize all the exciting and gratifying opportunities posed in question two.
Everyone can do it…some are astonished by their enjoyment and the appreciation of others.
Simple Helpful Principles
Take stock in the fact there are a few commonsense principles that help quickly sort out the yin and yang of action and inaction—the differences between experiencing personal satisfaction and wishing something had been done.
Principle #1: Have A Beneficial End in Mind
Focus on improving the situation for others – friends, constituents, customers, patients, suppliers, even adversaries. Describe the situation with logic, passion and compassion. Create in others’ minds a vision for better outcomes; describe what is going on and what might be possible. Let them fill in the blanks with their own ideas of what may be possible. Reminder, leadership is a team sport. You can set the stage, but do not sing the songs.
Principle #2: Relax, Enjoy the Ride, and Learn from Overcoming Obstacles
It is often better to take action than to regret not having done so. Will you ever look back and identify a leadership action you regretted taking? Probably. But did you actually expect to become a better leader, experience the joy of getting things done, and get it perfect every single time? I hope not! Getting things done fast and effectively while having fun is greatly dependent on the attitude of those leading. They create the expectation of accomplishment and the delight of going after something even while making some mistakes along the way.
Principle #3: Guide the Process but Let Participants Set the Agenda
You are the initiator and organizer of the response to a situation, problem, or opportunity, but you are not the owner! Your connected collaborators are the actual owners. You earn the recognition as the effort’s leader while you move contributors along the path of definition, goals, timing/urgency, approaches/strategies, and actions required to achieve goals within the needed time frame. Time frame can be critical…so ask your collaborators: “What is the length of time for achievement that, if exceeded, would make you most frustrated and unhappy?” Work back from there to really capture their urgency.
Principle #4: Be Willing to Stop, Letting the Circumstances Continue On
Perhaps the problem hasn’t fully manifested yet or isn’t sufficiently ripe for action. Many might be re-thinking the premise for action, absorbing the participation responsibilities or the implications of avoidance. Help others conclude that you are there to help change things or facilitate a positive outcome, but it is really up to them to decide if the situation is sufficiently important or urgent for their continued involvement. (When others accept the idea that you are willing to let them determine urgency and importance, no matter how important the situation, they invariably decide to do it also!)
Principle #5 Be Celebratory, Recognize Successes
If the opportunity or problem were top-of-mind, obvious to everyone and simple to address …it would have likely been done long ago. Almost by definition, there will be hurdles to overcome along the way. It is critical to place much greater importance on the success of overcoming than on the difficulties that may lie ahead. Remember our old friend “momentum.” Many of the anticipated barriers seem to mysteriously melt away as others see progress and want to get on board. So, have fun, smile. Compliment and recognize each other. And remember principle #1.
Some Client Examples
These brave people just decided to just do it without any assurance it would work but with the strong belief that it was needed and the right thing to do.
Remember Norma, who faced a difficult job supervising the night cleaning crew of a large hospital with very little support? Despite being in the same environment as other sections, she always had the cleanest facilities, the crew with highest morale, and the most appreciation from the docs and nurses. Norma asked the CEO for permission and support to show others how success could be achieved in their own areas. Her efforts became instrumental in the cultural turnaround of the entire hospital.
Remember Tom, who was encouraged to candidly express his opinion about barriers to excellence, opportunities for improvement, and ways he could personally take action? He did more. He set an example by assessing and taking action within the aerospace industry, a strict environment with old-line supervisors and traditional values. The result? Pure excellence: higher-quality metrics, faster flow, less scrap, and increased morale and excitement.
And there was Doris, who had the courage to disagree with the CEO of a large regional retailer and commit to achieving what the CEO expressed as an impossible task? She knew better. Jane knew others felt the same, and she made a mental list of other passionate participants. She stood her ground because the challenge was the right thing to do. And she had ideas on how to get it done. It got done, and the CEO stated, “The business results were remarkable.”
Be surprised by your own success stories! Identify and move quickly on opportunities for excellence and competitive advantage. Just do it. Help leaders (and potential leaders) think differently about the basics of taking action—of leading for a difference-making result that is the right thing to do, maybe even transformative
We Can Help
These are just a few of the success stories we have with our clients over the years – it would be great to help you be surprised by your own success stories! We help clients empower organizations to identify and move quickly on opportunities for excellence, for competitive advantage…to Do It. To help leaders and potential leaders, think differently about the basics of taking action, leading for a result that is a difference-maker, the right thing to do, maybe even transformative.
We can help bring these principles to life with your organization – we provide the tools and experience to help your team step up and take action. We’ve helped dozens of our clients implement this new way of thinking in their organizations.
Masters Alliance is a 30-year strategic management consulting firm that has helped more than 120 client organizations in over 20 industries in 13 countries gain a competitive advantage in their market. We help organizations develop and implement unique business approaches that work – faster than our clients ever thought possible.
We help clients achieve significant performance gains from a breakthrough understanding of their customers, patients, clients and markets.