There is no perfect time for action

IT took me ages to write this week’s column. Why? I was waiting for the right time, the right idea, the right frame of mind. The problem was, this newspaper has a publishing deadline.

So, I forced myself to sit down, and began to write. What came out wasn’t all that exciting, I can tell you. That’s why you’re not reading the first draft of this article. But I made a start, and I refined things along the way.

Sound familiar? Do you wait for the right time, put things on hold because committing to a decision is too hard to get your head around right now?

We all have moments like these – in fact I meet many people who live their entire lives like this – waiting for the right time when everything will be perfect, before they stick their neck out.

Unfortunately, people who wait get left behind. A friend of mine keeps complaining to me about how much he hates his work. He gets paid a fortune, but in his mind his job is dead-end, going nowhere.

I keep asking him what he is going to do about it. The predictable response? “When I work out what I want to do with my life, then I’ll find my ideal job.”

It reminds me of a cartoon of a tombstone I once saw, which read: “Here lies someone who was going to be happy tomorrow”.

I often wonder what holds me, and most of the human race, back from making decisions on the spot. Intellectually, we know that procras-tination is not healthy.

Experience has shown me that, if I make 50 decisions a day and 10 of them turn out to be wrong, I’m still further ahead than if I make 10 decisions a day and all of them are right. Or, as General George Patton said: “A good plan violently executed right now is far better than a perfect plan executed next week”.

In the workplace, a leader’s commitment to action engages staff. I know a doctor who works in the WA hospital system. She has two bosses. One she loves working with, the other she avoids. The key difference? In her mind, the one she thrives under is the one who she can approach with a problem, get his full commitment to working through it, either immediately or at another specific point in time, and then get a firm decision from him on the appropriate course of action.

The other has telephone messages stuck to his computer reading things such as “please call back ASAP – 1/4/99”. She approaches him – he waffles, goes off on a tangent, delays committing to any decision and says he’ll get back to her. Who would you rather work for?

The most inspirational person I have ever worked for was like my doctor friend’s first boss. He was based in London and I was running the New Zealand operations. But he nevertheless seemed to have a great handle on the issues I faced and was keenly insightful into ways around them.

I suspect that one of the main reasons for this was that I felt comfortable approaching him, because I knew I’d get his commitment to listen to my problems and work through them to come to a rapid decision.

Not every decision we made together was right, but we countered our mistakes by regularly reviewing my progress and correcting things as we went along.

Procrastination is corrosive. One of the main side effects of procrasti-nation in the workplace is gossip.

Leaders (if you can call them that) who avoid making difficult decis-ions – particularly with difficult staff – create a situation where others, resentful that nothing is being done about a situation, create theories and rumours as to why.

Staff members start telling each other that they’ve got a weak boss, and the behaviour of the problem staff member gets magnified into legendary proportions. A leader’s inaction, to my mind, is worse than taking any action.

Now, I’m not perfect. As I’m sitting here writing, my ‘to-do’ list has (cunningly) edged its way into my peripheral vision and reminded me that I’ve got items like “call Peter” and “reorganise filing system” dating back a couple of months – oh all right, back as far as January. January this year, mind you, I’m not as bad as some.

So I’ll leave you with some food for thought – I’ve got to go and make some calls. What’s stopping you?

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