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.