July 22nd, 2020
Do you tend to overthink and detail things to death? Do you have to research every feasible outcome, feel completely ready before making a final decision, and then second-guess yourself anyway? (I’ll raise my hand a little bit on this one.)
On the flipside, are you more of a “ready, fire, aim” person, who’s prone to move ahead even if the plan is only half-baked because you’re sure you can work it out? Do you “ask forgiveness instead of permission” and deal with the fallout? (And here my hand goes all the way up. Guilty as charged!)
Both mindsets have their setbacks. Overthink, and your teams will lose patience as they see indecision paralyze you, and it won’t be long before they start questioning your ability to lead. Shoot from the hip, and you risk leading your teams into potentially disastrous situations—in which they will probably have to be the ones to play clean up. Either way, over time your leadership will be (at best) diminished and (at worst) no longer trustworthy—the death knell for leaders.
OK, so now what?
As with everything in life and business, there’s a middle ground. And that ground is covered in nearly perfect, green grass, because we leaders seem to find our way to it seldom! Too often, it’s seen as a compromise instead of what it really is: a strategic plan of action that will yield better long-term results. So, I try to think of “middle ground” as a synonym for “discipline” when it comes to decision making. Just like a good health regimen, it may not be what you want to do, but you know that it’s what you should strive for.
Because I suffer from a bit of overthinking—and a lot of shooting from the hip—here are some things that have helped me strike a balance. Not always, but more often.
Overthinkers: Narrow Your Focus
Explore options, but not ALL options. You will never be able to quantify all possible scenarios and outcomes, and you’ll make yourself crazy trying, so narrow your focus. With input and guidance from your best team members and advisors, choose three or four courses of action, and then debate the flaws and merits until you’ve found the best way forward. But first set a timeline with a defined end date, or you’ll end up drowning in endless committee meetings with frustrated employees who will become mere onlookers as they quickly lose interest.
Ready, Fire, Aim Leaders: Take a Breath
Your ideas will come fast and furious, but when you make that first phone call to the team leader who has to implement your spur of the moment vision, pay attention. If they hesitate or seem to push back in any way—and even if they don’t—ask questions. Then be willing to re-examine your idea through the lens of your teams’ overall health, which, never forget, dictates your organization’s overall health. Your plan may be great, but it may need some slight adjustments or more time to implement. You won’t know if you don’t listen. Discipline yourself to have patience and be willing to tread the middle ground.
I read a quote by John Maxwell that said, “The reality is that you will never get much done unless you go ahead and do it before you are ready.” And I immediately felt some sort of justification for my mostly “ready, fire, aim” type of personality. When I look objectively at this quote, though, I understand that he is saying you will NEVER be completely ready—for anything, really—but you have to do it anyway. And he’s right.
Starting and/or running a business is like jumping off a cliff and building a parachute on the way down. Precision is necessary, and so is speed. Balance the two, and you’ve struck leadership gold—right in the middle of that refreshing middle ground.