In the past few days I saw a simple truth about the language of leadership.
Ned and Nancy were trying to get their son to get into the pool. Their son, Niles, was scared of the water.
“Do you want to get in the pool?” asked Ned. “Do you want to try to stand on the first step?”
Niles froze at the decision point. He was anxious and uneasy. His answers came non-verbally. Niles stopped and backed away from the pool’s edge. Parents are leaders. The leaders were putting the child in the position to make decision he wasn’t prepared to make.
The parents, Ned and Nancy, knew he’d be safe. They waited in the pool to receive him. But Niles needed stronger leadership to build his trust.
Ned and Nancy had a specific outcome in mind: Niles is in the pool (of his own volition). The questions they asked jeopardized their outcome. Their question gave the power to the person who could not see past his fear. They handed their vision over instead of leading Niles to their vision.
The world is changing faster than ever. Business are adapting at record pace. Job roles can change by the month, week, day and hour. It’s become the new business reality (This is an assumption to be challenged … that’s for another post). The rub is that people resist change. And Leaders are in the position of driving and leading others through more change than ever.
Ask your people, “Do you want to change?” The answer will almost always be ‘No.’
People look to leaders for confidence and trust. A person who has the courage to confidently state where the group is going. Teams freeze when they don’t get that. Organizations hesitate when they don’t see confident leadership.
“You hesitate. You die.” An expression taught to me when I learned to drive. It was specific to making left turns through intersections. I was taught that once I decide to go, I better go and go decisively. Otherwise I’ll get t-boned driving half-assed through the intersection.
It’s better to wrong and confident than right and hesitant. You can always change directions. Hesitation takes you half-way. Commitment takes you to the finish line.
Leaders are in the business of making decisions a reality. They are in the business of being committed to act on decisions they make, and acting decisively. Teams are in the business of working together in creative ways to solve the problems that their leaders need solved.
When it’s time for a change, don’t ask your team whether they want to, tell them where they’re going. Ask them how they would get there. You’ll have less hesitancy, more buy-in and change may come just a bit easier.
Tell your folks to jump. Be there to support them. Over time, they’re confidence will grow. They’ll embrace change and take bold action on their own.
What change do you need to set in motion today? Where will it take you? Who will you ask to find the best way to get there?
- How to Build Confidence (blogs.hbr.org)
- Leadership Lessons from the Saddle (blogs.hbr.org)
- Leadership is a contact sport (ericwarheit.com)