10 Ways to Know it’s Safe to Not Play it Safe
Mr. Young Leader gave his first update on an overseas project to the organization. It was OK. He’ll do better next time.
In our follow up conversation, he said, “I probably should have waited.”
I said, “I’m glad you didn’t.”
There are two types of leaders, those who hold back and perfect before they go, and those who press forward and learn as they go. Mr. Young Leader leans toward holding back. I lean toward pressing forward.
Every organization feels tension between hold-back and press-forward leaders.
Hold-back leaders protect gains and preserve stability. Press-forward leaders take new ground and create instability.
Press-forward leadership fails quickly. Hold-back leadership fails slowly.
Press-forward AND hold-back leadership is essential to organizational success.
Press forward when:
- The people you serve know and trust you.
- Growth and risk-taking is valued in the organization.
- Your trackrecord trends upward. When your trackrecord trends downward, it’s usually better to hold back and perfect a win.
- The timeline is short and the initiative is worth the effort.
- You’ll do the project again. Learning-as-you-go is most valuable when you’ll use what you learn in the same context, again and again.
- Experience is transferable to other projects.
- The leadership team supports you as you learn-as-you-go.
- Falling short won’t be catastrophic. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” If the worst isn’t that bad, what are you waiting for?
- Learning excites you more than failure defeats you.
- It’s more risky to do nothing than to try and fail.
When is it better to hold back?
When is it better to press forward, even though you don’t feel ready?
Learn how to navigate tensions between hold-back and press-forward leaders in, “Focus,” by Heidi Grant Halvorson Ph.D., and E. Tory Higgins Ph.D.
Hi Dan this post reminds me of one of my favorite book passages on the power of taking action:
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right side solely on its quality. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being rated for quantity. It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily turning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the ‘quality’ group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
David Bayles and Ted Orland: Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
Thank you Joe. Powerful. Thanks for extending the conversation.
For interested readers, here’s the link to Art & Fear.
I feel the tension between quantity and quality most of the time.
Along with your great insight to bring us this perfect addition from a book you read and enjoyed, Picasso once commented that it took longer for a person to contemplate painting a barn than it did for him to paint one of his million dollar abstracts–and he knew why: The wonder, magic, genius, power, and joy is to begin.
That’s powerful Books!
Both the kind of qualities of leader is majority of the time is, I think is inherited and most of the time I think built over a period of time. I also feels and assume that let me prepare first and than I will venture in reality, but does not work and I am remain there without and productive result. whenever I think let me start , I will face whatever the outcome may be and majority of the time I get success. However I think it is all about individual personality and perception. What I think both the kinds of leadership is required for the development of the organisation. In one case, one is always eager to take on the world at his feet and in other case it has the sense of maturity, weighing all the pro & cons, measuring the outcome. In the organisation both the kinds of leadership skill is required.
Thanks Rajesh, Yes, organizations need both kinds of leaders. My experience shows that they may devalue each other when it’s better to honor the difference.
I hate to have to choose between these two leadership types so thank you for giving us some cues on when to be one or the other. Can you present both qualities concurrently? Doesn’t it really just take having the right assistant or two to run the groundwork ahead of you?
Thanks Jared. A leader who can demonstrate both qualities concurrently is exceptional. In my journey, I’m learning to listen to those who think differently. Sometimes I ask myself, what would my hold-back friend do. It helps me. 🙂
i lean forward
Sometimes you have no choice! When I was younger the Superintendent handed me the drawings and said ” If you don’t run this job everyone goes home” ! I was a 19 year old Lineman Apprentice not a Foreman at the time! I pondered my decision briefly and said to myself what do I have to lose? What do I have to gain? What about my cohorts we all need paid. So I took the Blueprints and we went out as a crew and built CATV Lines for the project as needed! Looking back I’m glad I moved forward, the reality that day as a crew we got the job done and everyone received a paycheck for weeks to come, a true learning experience.
Thanks Tim. Great illustration. There is a sense of confidence that says we can learn, even if we don’t know.
Thank you for this! As a pastor, I have to make some decisions that venture in to the unknown sometimes. This is always a struggle, until you get the right amount of feedback, signs, blogs like this. To help you have a clear mind. to help you make the decision. Is not easy though.. Be blessed!
Thanks Leadership. As a lean-forward leader, I find it useful to ask my hold-back friends, what’s important to you? What are we gaining by holding back? What happens if we press forward? What doesn’t happen if we hold back?
Good questions. I see sometimes people hold back from sharing as well. But I can use these to provoke feedback. Thanks again… Keep bringing it!
Very good article Dan. I have a question though: I’m a lean-forward leader, sometimes extremely so, but I’m also very analytical, and don’t push forward unless the risk makes sense and the reward is worth it. However, I’m also in a very conservative company, in a generally conservative industry where risks are not often thought very highly of. Most managers and even the board are slow to accept risks, unless we are already five years behind the industry and we can evaluate the risk based on what others did. I have a great track record, but I still receive significant pushback and hesitancy. I’ve tried asking what’s important to them, but I honestly don’t believe they really know. It’s almost like they know they don’t know or understand it, and are not willing to go with it, but also are not really willing to invest the time to get to know and understand it (until someone with authority says to).
Outside of changing companies, what do you recommend?