Inherent in our role as consultants is our focus on solving problems every day. As part of our daily work, we’re faced with different variations of major transformational and organizational change and it’s our job to make the path to success clear to everyone impacted. Typically, our clients assign their rising leaders to drive these engagements forward and we’ve worked with every possible leadership profile. There is one characteristic that helps these emerging executives rise above the rest – action-orientation.
The best leaders in transformational change have a bias towards action. They’re not caught up trying to drive complete consensus around decisions. These leaders understand that doing something is almost always better than doing nothing. As stated in one of Amazon’s guiding principles, “Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study.” In reality, the perfect plan means nothing unless it is followed by timely execution.
If you’re already in a position of responsibility in your company and want to be considered an emerging leader – start with a critical self-evaluation. Are you courageous? Or do you have a tendency to hesitate when pursuing your goals? There’s no wrong answer here but it gives you a clearer definition of the path forward.
Ask yourself these simple questions to determine if you are action-oriented in the workplace.
- Do you have difficulty visualizing longer-term projects as a series of small tasks?
- Do you spend personal time thinking about a mistake you made in a presentation?
- Is it important to you to find the person who is accountable for a problem?
If you said ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you may have a bias towards inaction.
If you want to become an action-oriented leader, basic time management behaviors help you adjust your frame of mind. Consider these tips for shifting your bias and being more proactive:
- Don’t shoot for perfection, shoot for excellence;
- Set your goals for a task and break down the activities into small, manageable pieces;
- Delegate to people who will get things done; and
- Do your best to solve problems when they are small and not let them grow into big issues.
Being action-oriented also means not letting mistakes impact your confidence. In most cases, your leadership team would prefer you try but make a mistake rather than being afraid to do something wrong and allowing an issue to run out of control.
Learning from Mistakes
When you have a tendency towards perfection in your work, it can be difficult to accept mistakes. You may believe that a mistake is so bad that you let it impact your self-esteem and self-confidence. Some industries can’t and won’t tolerate mistakes – certainly the margin for error is low for an airline pilot or a surgeon. Fortunately for most of us, if it’s not illegal, immoral, or physically harmful – mistakes are actually an opportunity. Professionals learn and develop much more from action than from in-depth discussions or planning activities.
Experiencing mistakes is the best way to grow. Some mistakes like penicillin, the pacemaker, and x-rays, have resulted in life-changing inventions.
Enabling an Action-Oriented Culture
Ambiguity is one of the biggest barriers to cultivating an action-oriented team. It’s difficult for most people to work proactively if the end goal isn’t clearly communicated. Learning to survive or even thrive in ambiguous circumstances in necessary for successful action-orientation. Similarly, if leadership has a tendency to look for fault when mistakes are made, employees are naturally going to be hesitant about taking appropriate business risks. Fault is backward-looking and responsibility is forward-looking. Where fixating on blame delays action, taking responsibility offers clarity.
Whether you’re a new hire out of college or an executive taking on a new position, a bias towards action is an essential professional skill. By taking chances and calculated business risks, you demonstrate to your colleagues that you are not just going to talk about issues, you’re going to act on them. You’ll show them that you’re ready to focus on responsibility, own any problem, and drive the business forward.