In Action, Leaders

“What must be done eventually should be done immediately.” – Jeremy Foley

I’ve had a few meetings lately with leaders where someone in the room said something like “Well, at some point we should probably ________”.  Then the conversation moves on and the really important thing “we” should do gets pushed aside and forgotten.  I’m guessing that in a year or two it will get mentioned again, with the same result.

Why do we do that?  Why do we fail to do the things that we know we ought to do?  The easy answer/excuse is time.  We certainly cannot do everything at once.  We do have to prioritize.  Better to do a handful of things exceptionally well than to do a bunch of things poorly.

While there’s certainly truth in those statements, more often than not they’re just excuses.  The real reason we fail to do the things that we know we ought to do is that they sound difficult, and we’re not confident we can do them well, so we come up with an excuse so we don’t have to try.  Those important things keep coming up because we know they need to be done, and we keep kicking the can down the road.

I don’t have a magic bullet for making difficult things easy.  What I do have is a simple fact:  part of a leader’s job is doing difficult things.  If you’re a leader, you can’t put off those things forever.  Your most important responsibility is to the organization, and if you choose not to do important things then you’re failing in that responsibility.

Ask yourself:  What critical thing needs to be done that I’m avoiding or excusing away?  Maybe it’s a challenging conversation with a customer or one of your own people.  Maybe it’s a decision you have to make that you know will make someone unhappy.  Maybe it’s a sacrifice you have to make for the good of the organization.

Whatever that thing is, sit down and do two things:  First, make a plan for actually doing whatever it is that need to be done.  Second, find somebody to hold you accountable.  If you’re a leader, tell the rest of the leadership team that you’re going to do whatever it is.  Tell your coach or mentor.  Tell a peer you respect.  And ask those people to hold you accountable for getting it done.

Most leaders aren’t consciously deciding not to do their jobs.  Fear of failure, or just fear in general, is a powerful thing, and it’s completely understandable.  The reality is, though, that if you’re avoiding things you know need to be done, you’re not leading.  You’re just making excuses.

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