Two Excuses Leaders Make For Inaction

clock on the wall

I write these words shortly after completing my Bible reading for the day (James 1) where James challenges the readers of his short letter to be doers of the Word (James 1:22 being the oft cited example, “do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says”). This reading got me thinking about leadership. Why do leaders fail to act? What follows are two excuses that I have observed, and, regrettably, used myself. They aren’t the only excuses, but by identifying them, I hope you can avoid the pitfall (inaction) they produce.

The first excuse is the age old, “I don’t have time for that”—whatever “that” is. I have noticed that this usually applies to personnel issues that are not major, like someone not showing up to a meeting on time. When something like this comes up, I am tempted to say, at least internally, that “I don’t have time” because I have various responsibilities that are more important (product development, sales calls, operational issues, etc.). But, addressing these issues IS THE JOB OF LEADERSHIP (caps intended). Think about what happens when the leader does not address one small issue. For example, the often-late person does not get the feedback, most likely continues in the behavior, and thus gets viewed MORE negatively by their teammates. People begin to grumble, factions are created, perhaps other people also start to arrive late—after all, no one is going to do anything about it. None of this is good for the overall team, so how doesn’t the leader —in this case me!—have time for it? Or said differently, which problem will take more time to address: the minor late problem or the full-fledged team dynamic problem that results from someone always being late to meetings? Obviously, the latter.

Another example of inaction comes when the leader needs to process an issue for an extended period of time. “Let’s get all the facts,” may be a smart strategy, but it can easily lead to inaction when it morphs from fact finding to “I don’t want to make a decision.” Let’s call this what it is, a delay tactic, and no organization thrives using delay tactics. While I don’t struggle with this one as much as the example above —my struggle is often making a decision too quickly before all the facts get in —I have seen this play out in our organization. One of the root causes being the human desire of self-preservation, meaning waiting to act until one is absolutely sure of the decision’s success. While I can appreciate this to a certain extent, it slows down the forward momentum of the organization. Thus, when I see this going on, I need to make time (there “time” is again) to address it. I also have to make sure that the person realizes that making a “bad call” is not going to cost them their job. In fact, usually making a “bad call” is better than making “no call,” simply because the latter is more confusing. Making “no call” is akin to standing with a golf club in your hand and never swinging. It’s better to take the swing and miss, than miss the opportunity to take a shot.

The point of this post is to remind leaders that we need to be people of action. Using excuses like, “I don’t have time,” or “I need to process more,” can be detrimental to both the growth of us as leaders, and the organizations that we lead. Therefore, make a mental note this week to pay attention to if and when you use those two, or other, excuses to delay action. Delaying action can be the right call, just make sure it is, and not some lame excuse for inaction.