Sometimes, leaders must make major decisions quickly

On June 22, 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered an attack on the French Navy after the German-French armistice was signed. Within five minutes of the initial shots being fired, nearly all of the French warships were destroyed or crippled. More than 1,000 French sailors were killed in the attack, all of whom were allies only days previously. Churchill made this decision, amidst strong cabinet opposition, to prevent a potential shift in naval superiority.

That was a gutsy call. It was also a quick decision; Churchill only had a few hours to decide. 

Leaders, 90% of the decisions you make are not urgent. Simply submit them to due process: clarify the decision, seek input from your team, consider alternatives, and take time to get it right. But some decisions must be made quickly. Know and recognize the difference. Don’t be impulsive if you can submit the decision to a considered process, but don’t procrastinate when a decision must be made quickly.

Don’t be rash or impulsive, but do be decisive.

You’ll not always make the right decision. When you make a mistake, admit it, own it, and then press on. 

History proved Churchill’s decision to be a good one. If he had not destroyed the French Navy, each ship would have flown a swastika and the Nazis would have ruled the seas and probably won the war. 

When was the last time you had to make a major decision, quickly? What was the outcome?

Sometimes, good enough is good enough

In the deepest poverty you should never do anything perfectly. If you do you are stealing resources from where they can be better used. Ingegerd Roth, missionary nurse in Congo 

This principle applies anytime we are prioritizing scarce resources.

Today I spent an hour washing my car. On a scale from 1 (extremely dirty) to 10 (near perfect), it started out as a 3 and 30 minutes later it was an 8. I could have worked another hour and reached 9.5 but it would not have been worth it. To invest another 60 minutes for a 1.5 increase didn’t seem prudent. After all, it may rain tomorrow.

I had the same thought when pruning the bushes at my house. Must I pursue perfection when the bushes are still vigorously growing? Within a day or two, an energetic stem will poke through the top of the well-manicured hedge and ruin my straight line, so why bother?

Other projects require a higher standard.

  • If the stakes are high, strive for perfection—we want our surgeon to be persnickety.
  • If the item is a prototype to be mass-produced, be obsessive about getting the first one right. (I’m always disappointed to see typos in first-edition books published by major publishing companies.) 
  • If you’re a professional, people pay you to be good and fast, so be both.  

But sometimes, good enough is good enough. Sometimes done is better than perfect.

Tom Peterson adds this to the conversation: “By the way, what is perfect? Paul McCartney’s Blackbird—is it done or perfect? I lean toward perfect. But most Beatles recordings (there are around 300) are simply done. Yet their combined effect was a fantastically creative body of work. 

“In the early years, the group performed relentlessly and found its sound. And when they were in song writing mode, Lennon and McCartney would set aside a series of days. Paul would drive to John’s house on the scheduled day, ‘We always wrote a song a day, whatever happened we always wrote a song a day,’ he said. ‘We never had a dry day.’

“Voltaire wrote, ‘Perfect is the enemy of the good.’ Had the Beatles performed only their perfect work perfectly, we’d have never heard of them.

“As we create projects and campaigns to improve the world, we shoot not for perfect but done. Yes, we should develop our programs as well as we can. But will any of our work be perfect? Not likely.”

Here’s a good article on the downside of perfectionism. 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/better-perfect/201611/9-signs-you-might-be-perfectionist

   

Resist abnormality

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society. Jiddu Krishnamurti

I’ll expand Krishnamurti’s insightful advice to include multiple applications.

  • It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick relationship.
  • It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick job.
  • It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick organization or movement.

We often find ourselves in an unhealthy environment but instead of resisting, we adjust to the pathology and consider it the new normal. We may have pure motives—to maintain peace and equilibrium, or to help others who are in the same situation—but the end result is the same: the abnormal becomes the new standard.    

For instance, we may consciously or unconsciously adjust to society’s infatuation with consumerism, or to an abusive relationship, or to an unfulfilling job, or to a failing organization—and soon embrace a distorted sense of well-being. We become passive and ignore the need for change.

The first step out of the morass is to see clearly the abnormality. But that’s usually hard to do. How can we tell when we’re in a sick environment, particularly when we’ve been in it for a long time? For instance, when growing up in a particular family, how is a child to know what is normal and abnormal? Often the acclimation has been so slow and subtle that we’re unaware something is amiss (frog in the boiling water syndrome).

It often takes an outside intervention to help us see clearly. A good and faithful friend tells us that something in our life seems wrong. An outside consultant tells us that parts of our organization are dysfunctional.

Visiting other environments can also help us gain clarity. For instance, as a teenager, when I was around my friends’ families I began to realize the oddities of my own. Traveling to foreign countries may expose inadequacies of your homeland. In other words, exposure to healthy situations can reveal the sickness of our own.

Once we see that something is atypical, the next challenge is to courageously resist, which is difficult because we may have a vested interest in the situation and/or the problems may be deeply engrained. In some cases, freedom will only come through a complete break with the system.

Ask yourself: in what areas of life have I succumbed to an unhealthy norm?

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.

Ready, fire, aim

Trip to Peru - information meeting on May 18

Last year I wrote a post titled Have a bias toward action, in which I suggested: “We’ve all heard the adage—ready, aim, fire—which sounds like a logical sequence of events, but sometimes we get transfixed on the aim element. Some organizations (and individuals) get bogged down by over-analyzing and over-thinking details and options. Paralysis by analysis sets in; nothing gets done. Perhaps we should consider: ready, fire, aim.”

A friend of mine, Dane H., who has a military background, added this to the conversation: “Here’s an example of what you talk about, taken from my days in the Army.

“Prior to firing on the range, we ‘zero’ our weapon. That is, we have to calibrate the sights for how the soldier firing that rifle shoots in order to hit the target. The first step is to fire three shots at a target from 25 meters, triangulate the holes in the paper and adjust the sights in order to achieve a tighter shot group closer to the center of the target. So, to your point, we literally ready and fire understanding that our results won’t be optimal until we course-correct.”

Sometimes, ready-fire-aim is the smart process to pursue:

    • Before you make a major career change, try it out. If you’re thinking of being a UPS driver, ride around on a truck for several days. 
    • If you’re thinking of marrying someone, travel with him or her for two weeks. Travel brings out the best and worst in people.
    • Before launching a new product or service, submit a prototype or just the idea to a focus group and recalibrate based on their response.

Seldom do we get things right the first time. Most successful products and services are the result of many iterations. We learn a lot by acting and then adjusting.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

I’m hosting a trip to Peru, May 6-15, 2020. It will be limited to 50 travelers. Here’s the brochure. On Saturday, May 18, 2019 from 4:00-5:00, I’m hosting a free information meeting for anyone who wants more details about the trip. It will be held in the DFW metroplex and broadcast live on Facebook for those who live elsewhere. If you want to attend, email me at djmcminn@msn.com or respond to this blot post.