Don’t Lead

Don’t Lead

April 9, 2018 News


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.

About the author

Dan Mulhern: Dan Mulhern is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of leadership and organizational culture.