In 1991, at the end of George Bush Sr.’s first term, I remember him being criticized for not having a vision or a purpose for being president. The story being written was that he just wanted to be president, not necessarily take the country anywhere once he achieved that position. Whether or not this was true about him, I think that perception hurt him as a leader and probably influenced the election results that year (he lost to Bill Clinton).
As it turns out, people expect their leaders not just to listen but to lead. More often than not, that means doing something—making a decision, implementing a plan and/or articulating a vision. If these things don’t happen, it isn’t long before folks become disenfranchised and look around for someone else to lead them.
In many of the companies for which I have consulted, one of the things that keeps employees engaged is knowing that the person in charge is looking down the road and thinking about how to keep the company relevant, profitable and competitive as the market changes.
When I was the executive coach to the Chief of the Army Reserve, one of the things that people admired about Major General Baratz was that he was a futurist. He was always 5 chess moves ahead of everyone else. At a time where the Reserve soldiers were often referred to as “weekend warriors,” he was determined to position the Reserve in such a way as to make this branch of the Armed Services organic to the Army’s ability to fight a war. All of his actions were in line with this purpose and he very quickly achieved his objective. US Reserves (including the National Guard) now make up 40% of US Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of the hardest things to do as a leader is making a decision. As it turns out, you are usually better off making a decision even if it is the wrong one rather than doing nothing. But what if doing nothing is the wisest thing?
Here is where communication is vital to being able to lead. When people expect certain things to happen and don’t see or hear anything being done, they tend to make up very uncharitable interpretations for this lack of action. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is in not sharing their reasoning and their vision with the people they are leading.
Rather than let a gap of time pass, it is best to let people know that you understand and share their concerns and that you are waiting for the best time to act at which time, you’ll “pull the trigger.” This kind of communication makes people feel heard, valued and connected. It also makes them much more likely to follow your lead when action is needed.
Please let me know your experience with decisions makers in your life and with your own experience of decision making and communication in leadership.