I remember it very clearly. The meeting had ended--one more in a long string of meetings to discuss essentially the same issue; but I did not forget the lesson I learned. Two of my leaders, higher up the organizational food chain, approached me from either side of the conference table--one, then the other. Independently of each other, with no prior coordination or plan of attack, they both said to me, in essence: “Dave, you’re going to have to learn to live with ambiguity.” My first reaction was: “Why would anybody in their right mind want/choose to opt for ambiguity?”
Since that meeting I’ve come to the conclusion that there are many leaders who would not only be okay with ambiguity but would push or vote for it. I’ve seen many similar situations where there was discussion ad “infinauseum” with no decision, no plan of action, no execution but, rather, a plea for more meetings, more time, more information before we could move ahead.
Now, let me get one thing straight before I move on. I, as a leader, am not adverse to taking the time necessary to think carefully through an issue to make sure we have all the pertinent information before moving ahead with a plan for getting it done.
What I have struggled with, and have a strong aversion to, in various teams or groups I’ve worked with, is the inability or fear of moving ahead and executing--the proverbial paralysis of analysis. Sometimes the biggest risk is not taking any risks!
In his excellent book, “Winning,” former GE CEO Jack Welch shares five essential characteristics of a leader
- Energizes others
- Edge (by this Welch means the courage to made the tough yes-or-no decisions)
It is number four, “Execute” that we’re discussing today.
Let me put “execute” in context for us. In any undertaking, you should begin with an agreed-upon vision or sense of direction--whether you are talking about a family, a small group, a church, a ministry or a Fortune 500 company. Where do we want to go with this? Why are we doing it? What do we see out there in the future? What difference will it make for eternity if it really happens as we envision it? From the vision we develop a strategic plan, which deals with:
- Does what?
- By When?
- How will you follow up?
Then you go to work and begin to “execute.” There is no substitute for just getting things done. I confess that I am tired of endless discussions with no action, dreams with no plans, lofty and admirable ideas that never result in concrete, practical steps. Great ideas need to have both wings and landing gear. A good team will always have a balanced combination of dreamers and implementers, and perhaps often they will be at odds with each other.
The dreamers will want more information and the implementers will want to get the plane in the air. I am definitely in the “let’s-get-the- plane-in-the-air-before-Jesus-comes” camp. Let’s move on it before the idea becomes obsolete. No, it’s not perfectly thought through, but it is thought through enough to launch it and work out the bugs as we go. It was leadership guru John Maxwell who said, “If you did something perfectly the first time you did it, you waited too long to start.”
My questions, after a certain amount of discussion, are: So, do we want to do anything with this? Is this just an idea exchange or are we discussing it with the purpose of acting on it? Can anyone think of some good reason(s) why we shouldn’t put this idea into play pretty soon?
My experience, after 38 years in ministry, is that when all is said and done, a lot more is said than done! In any team I find myself on I will more than likely be the one who pushes to execute and put feet on the ideas we are discussing after a reasonable (in my mind) amount of time.
I don’t think there is any substitute in a leader’s portfolio of character traits like being able to deliver and get the job done after the homework and thinking has taken place. There is always a high premium on the ability to get things done. Hundreds of books have been written on the subject of delivering and finishing the task or job. As one astute writer said, There are only two responses: results or excuses.
The excuses are myriad: “It’s on my do list (that generally doesn’t encourage me. It could be on a do list for years!); Well, I was going to get to it this week, but I sort of got off track; I am a bit behind due to some things beyond my control; Well, I would have had it done, and had every intention of completing it, but some other people didn’t come through so I was unable to finish it; I had some personal issues come up which set me behind emotionally. Yada, yada, yada.
As one frustrated boss put it, “Don’t tell me about the labor pains, show me the baby!” Sorry if I have offended you ladies, but you get the point. We, at times, have good intentions, but don’t get started or don’t finish what we start. Loose ends are all over the place and never get tied together.
Why would a leader not execute, not get moving on something, not finish what was assigned to him? Here are a few reasons which come to mind:
- Lack of personal organization and an effective planning method
- Too many responsibilities on their plate, leading to a sense of being overwhelmed
- Flat out lazy
- Fear of making a mistake or not meeting the desired expectation
- Poor communication and lack of clarity on what was to be done and by whom
- Poor role fit leading to little or no motivation
Each of these possible explanations needs to be dealt with and resolved in order to be productive and bring honor to the Lord.
So, here’s a toast to Nike who, since 1988, has encouraged us to “Just Do It.” Don’t think about it more… Don’t promise to do it one of these days…Don’t make excuses for not getting it done (or even started!)…or, Don’t wait until you can do it perfectly. “Just Do It”…Now, rather than later!