Stop Thinking and Start Acting

Enough with all the thinking already! 

Now, you need to drive action. Ideas are great but someone has to put them in motion for them to be worthwhile, and deciding to do that is no easy task. Acting on a decision can be terrifying, especially in the case of large-scale change. Your decision may affect a significant number of people, and what if it is the wrong decision? What if things do not go as expected and the resulting outcome negatively impacts you or your organization? 

You could lose your job. Worse, hundreds of other people could lose theirs. It is hard enough to act on decisions when just facing your own insecurities. Throw the complexities of your organization into the mix and the angst increases exponentially. Politics, lack of resources, uncertainty, doubt, and fear all mess with our minds right when we are on the verge of taking action.

However, I am challenging you to be thought leaders. Being a thought leader requires you to be bold. Your decisions must be clear and forceful. The “thought” part of the equation only gets you halfway to your destination. As my colleague Alan Veeck says “It’s good to have thoughts, but that’s not enough.” Being a true thought leader means you not only agitate for but also lead change. Such leadership requires decisive action on your part.

You probably see it all the time—people and teams suffering from analysis paralysis. They are unable to make a decision and instead their organization languishes in the purgatory of endless Excel models. People fear making decisions. They sometimes believe, erroneously for the most part, they are better off making no decision than making an incorrect one. By not making a decision, they think they cannot be fired or disciplined for being wrong.

An old maxim of mine that addressed this issue was a RUSH lyric in their song "Freewill": “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Inaction is still an action. It is choosing not to choose. When decisions are not made, organizations stagnate and eventually go down the tubes. That is when the really hard decisions have to be made. Layoffs, restructuring, divestitures and other painful choices await organizations that cannot make a decision and act on it.

I worked for a great boss at one point who helped me realize the negative impact of analysis paralysis. I presented a business case to him for a new idea and, based on my analysis, I estimated it was worth $1,000,000 in income over the next twelve months. He asked if I was implementing the idea immediately. I told him I was going to do some additional analysis, and then go live the following week with the change I was proposing. He said “When you come back next week with your additional analysis, the business case had better be worth another $20,000 because that’s what seven days costs at a run rate of $1,000,000. Is your analysis worth $20,000?” My answer was no. We went live that day. Inaction has a quantifiable cost.

Leaders have to make choices. Many times those choices are painful. The decisions a leader makes can affect dozens to thousands of people. Their actions determine if someone has a job, gets a raise, or moves to a new city. Leaders create businesses and close others. And in the most extreme cases their actions change the course of industry and therefore the way we live our lives. Sometimes the results of a leader’s actions are spectacular. Other times the results are spectacular disasters. Nonetheless, leaders must make decisions and act.

Having a maxim focused on forcing action is powerful. It will move you from analysis to activity. It will help you be decisive. It should reduce your fear and uncertainty and serve as a clear reminder of how to act during uncertain times. My decision making maxim came from the lips of one of the greatest military leaders in history: “In case of doubt, attack!” – General George S. Patton III.

Besides the fact that I like the quote, the maxim elicits strong emotions for me. When I was in the army I was a tank platoon leader. My first job consisted of the tactical deployment of four M1A1 main battle tanks manned by fifteen dedicated soldiers. I studied General Patton a great deal during both my time at West Point and during my initial armor training as a lieutenant. He was effectively the patron saint of armor. I internalized the notion that the worst action you can take on the battlefield is to take no action at all.

—Mike Figliuolo is the founder and managing director of thoughtLEADERS, LLC, where this essay first appeared. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and a frequent contributor to MANAGING POWER.

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