The Need for Speed

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” –Deut. 31:7-9

When Jim Collins wrote his seminal work on what makes a good company great, he stumbled upon a key ingredient: having a Level 5 leader at the helm. He describes a Level 5 leader as someone who possesses both humility and professional will or courage. There was also a recent article in Harvard Business Review that said that great leaders have to be fast in their decision-making, particularly when they know the right thing to do.

So how do these two ideas connect?

One of the ways to increase speed is through demonstrated personal courage. What often slows decision-making down is a desire to not “ruffle any feathers” or to give “more grace” to people or more time to business units that are not performing. It’s being slow in making the decisions you know are the right ones, but delaying them because the consequences feel risky. The worst thing a leader can do is to hope that the wrong road, wrong strategy or wrong person will somehow lead to the right one. Confidence in the right road and strategy will allow clarity on tough decisions and therefore, can be made with less hesitation.

Why do you think Joshua was told to “be strong and courageous”? We read the passage above and gloss over the fact that Joshua was responsible for dividing the land among the tribes. It seems like this act would be fraught with conflict and tribal leaders jockeying for position to get the biggest and most fertile territories.

So how do we, as leaders, demonstrate personal courage in the face of a difficult decision or a potential conflict?

  1. Don’t allow lag time. Once you know something needs to be done, don’t allow unnecessary time between the decision and the action that needs to occur. Leaders often allow too much time between knowing and doing which does not benefit the people involved or the future of the organization.
  2. Start with the end in mind. Ask yourself: “Where are we headed, how are we going to get there and how does this decision affect that outcome?”
  3. Prepare for the conversation. Prior to discussion, reflect on how the decision was made, who was consulted, what process was used and what other options were considered
  4. Be direct, yet compassionate. Make sure that your non-verbal cues aren’t different from what you are saying. In addition, share the decision in a fact-based and clear manner so there is no confusion. Explain why the decision is in the best interest of the company while showing care and compassion for the impact it will have on those affected.
  5. Explain how the decision was made. It’s important to share the process that was followed, the people consulted and the steps taken to reach the final decision.
  6. Allow for feedback. Make sure people have an opportunity to share concerns and feelings, but also make it clear that the decision is not open to debate.
  7. Focus on the future. Reiterate how the decision will position the organization for greater health and growth moving forward.

Level 5 leaders resemble Joshua who knew the direction and strategy while having the conviction and courage to act quickly. Describe what holds you back from this kind of decision-making?