Don’t Lead

Play

While preparing for an upcoming series of classes and speeches, I pulled up my “Definitions” of leadership file.  Here are two:

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”                                                                                 — Dwight D. Eisenhower

A more modern definition begins:

“Leadership is influencing people to take action.  In the workplace, leadership is the art of getting work done through other people.”                                   — Daniel Goleman

(emphasis is mine)

As I read these and other definitions, a thought occurred to me:  Isn’t leadership sometimes about NOT doing something, not taking action?

Of course the image of “leading,” itself conjures a picture of someone at the front getting people to go somewhere.  But in our hyper-charged and competitive world, it seems everyone claims – whether true or not – that they have a “bias for action.”  But do you ever wonder if we’ve lost a sense of patience, of deliberation, of conferral, and of deferral?  How many times have I hit send, even while a small, still voice is trying to get my attention to slow me down . . . for reasons as small as to “attach” the attachment, or so large as to take out the hot language that’s going to create untold resistance in a recipient.

Our President of late has been taking action left, right, and center; just last week: Russian sanctions, troops at the border, firing cabinet members, announcing tariffs. Some of the moves may work. For my part, I have exercised great restraint so as not to turn “Read to Lead” into a political column. That’s not my purpose. And today, I celebrate the consideration of NOT taking action.  For example, when:

  • Your team or kids need to stretch and learn.
  • There is a quiet voice that’s telling you “wait.”
  • Something has you irritated and you’re jumping into the passing lane for the wrong reasons.
  • You haven’t checked your assumptions about what someone else is doing.
  • People on your team have a different opinion than you, and you haven’t at least explained why you’re going in a different direction.
  • You have achieved a really hard-fought win, and people need to celebrate, rest, or just reflect.
  • As my co-author John, says to me, “you’re trying to muscle this.” Give it a little more thought.
  • You don’t know what’s the hurry.
  • You’re hangry, tired, stressed, sick, or otherwise compromised. Or…
  • When Aaron Burr challenges you to a duel (for you Hamilton lovers).

Take a deep breath and

Lead with your best self.