When you cut, think only cut


“There is timing in everything” Miyamoto Musashi

I was reflecting the other day on a recent conversation I had with fellow executive who was leading his organization through a major change effort.  The effort was not going well and he personally felt board, lost and unfulfilled in his career.  He asked me if coaching could help him break through and regain his confidence and passion.  We had a long conversation where we explored his situation.  In our conversation he clearly came across as someone who had been thinking about this for quite some time, was at the end of his rope, and wanted help to shift his mindset.

At the end of our discussion he asked and I agreed to help him think through his options.  I followed up a few days later and then again after a couple weeks.  Ultimately he took no action and he remains in the same state of paralysis he’s been in for over a year – unhappy, unfulfilled and leading a failing change effort.

Had he decided I was not the best coach for him that would have been fine, but he decided to do nothing, which I found curious. This got me reflecting on the power of decisiveness and its importance in life and change leadership in particular.

“In any moment of decision the worst thing you can do is nothing”  Theodore Roosevelt

In martial arts, as in life, there are many moments where decisiveness is the key to success.  Weighing options is good, but done too long and you can lose the opportunity. Done not long enough and you can err and end up in a worse position.  Consider this from the perspective of a competition.  Two opponents face each other.  Based on what’s worked in the past one opponent makes a decision to attack.  It is what happens next that’s key.  Like a samurai with a sword, once you decided to cut, you must cut completely in order to be effective.  If you hesitate or stop part way through, your attack will fail, often leaving you in a worse position than when you started.

For decision-making, particularly in times of transformational change, the same principle applies.  The first step is to size up your situation.  Three questions I often use to help people do this are:

  • What’s driving you to make this decision now?
  • What happens if you don’t act now?
  • What does success look like 6, 12, 24 months from now?

Once you have clarity on these questions then move forward, or don’t.  But don’t hesitate or second guess yourself.  After you decide to take action, do so decisively.  Not everyone may agree with your decision, but if you feel it’s the right thing, follow-through.  It is one of the key attributes of successful change leadership as described in this recent article in the Washington Post

Many change initiatives fail to achieve their goals because leaders strive to please everyone, hesitate by over analyzing options or are simply timid and move too slowly.  In times of change, speed matters, and you can’t let seeking perfection get in the way good, positive progress.  That said, it’s OK to adjust your actions while you are executing your decision.  The key is simply to complete the action and keep moving forward decisively even if down a slightly different path.  Adjusting during execution is easier once you’ve started and have momentum on your side.  More on leveraging the power of momentum in a future post.