During these difficult times of so many supply chain shortages, critical decisions need to be made every day to keep the business running.
Anyone who takes up a leadership position must be prepared to make decisions. Successful leaders have the courage to take action while others hesitate. There is, of course, risk in any decision, particularly where it involves a significant change from past precedent.
Nevertheless, while risk must be minimized to as great an extent as practical, decision-making cannot be put off indefinitely merely because some element of risk remains.
Thus, an ancient Chinese saying states: “Don’t waste time calculating your chances of success and failure. Just fix your aim and begin.”
Generally, in a moment of decision, while the best thing a leader can do is the right thing to do, the worst thing you can do is nothing.
As Margaret Thatcher observed: “Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you can get knocked down by the traffic from both sides.”
This advice must be properly understood. It means that one should not dither and equivocate while the situation worsens. It does not mean that one should strike out irrationally.
Wasting time would suggest that you are unable to decide what to do. Moreover, even where doing nothing is the correct course, it is still best not to appear to be indecisive.
Unless leadership can make decisions in a timely manner it is impossible for any organization to respond to a crisis or challenge.
No leader can afford not to make a decision. There is a very large temptation when facing a major problem to defer decisions. Action in the face of a daunting problem may seem ill-advised, because one’s knowledge is incomplete.
However, no one admires or follows a person who only watches. While further study may seem necessary to acquire a full understanding, it is wise to remember the best way to learn, is to learn by doing.
The benefit of further knowledge must be balanced against the realization there is often a high cost entailed in any prolonged failure to act.
Knowledge of a problem will not correct a problem; only action will. Generally, it is infinitely better to act on the basis of limited knowledge in an emergency, then to defer acting until information is complete.
When knowledge is limited, it is prudent to go slowly at first, but only in order to confirm that the preliminary understanding was reasonably accurate.
While deliberative action may be a virtue, the alternative of being idle almost never is. Even limited success is better than no success at all. Although the general rule is to act, the fact that a decision is necessary does not lead to the conclusion that an active response is always the wise course.
According to historian Will Durant, one of the most important lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.
To say, on the one hand, that appearing to do nothing in the face of a problem is generally a mistake, but that sometimes the best solution is to do nothing seems at first to be contradictory.
Nevertheless, these two ideas can be reconciled. When a problem arises, the leadership team of an organization should be seen to respond to it. However, visible response does not imply precipitous action. To the extent that the circumstances permit, any response should be a considered one.
There should be a good reason to believe that the response that is taken will improve the situation. If there is not, then why take it?
The more potentially distractive the response that is proposed, the more credible the evidence should be for taking that response.
Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.