by Tom Kraeuter
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Bayer is recovering from major surgery. That means you’re stuck with his editor’s ramblings this week. 🙂 ]
Many years ago I had a significant problem with a subordinate. His job performance was well below what it should have been. I won’t go into the gory details, but let’s suffice it to say that I should have dealt with it early on. Unfortunately, like most people, I don’t like confrontation. So I let it go. I was hoping things would improve. Unfortunately, they didn’t. In fact, the problem got worse. Much worse. I finally was forced into action. The problem escalated to a point where I had no other options. There was a traumatic and heated confrontation. Tempers flared. Strong words were exchanged. And the problem was finally – although very painfully – solved.
In the midst of that scenario I learned a very valuable lesson: leaders take action. As a leader, I cannot sit by passively and simply watch as situations deteriorate. I can’t just hope that the scenario improves. In fact, in my experience, difficult situations seldom improve without direct action. If there is a problem, the problem needs to be dealt with aggressively. Most of the time it falls to me as the leader to deal with the issue by taking action.
Hundreds of years ago – okay, it was the late ‘70s – I saw a political cartoon that makes the point well. It was a three-panel comic depicting the then-President of the United States and his wife preparing for a dinner party. In the first frame, they were in their bedroom, she in a formal gown and he in a white shirt and black pants. The President was lamenting, “I want to help the poor and I want to balance the budget. I want to bring home our troops but I want to help make sure the region is safe first. I want to bolster the economy but I don’t want to create inflation.” The second frame showed only the First Lady asking a question. “That’s nice, dear, but what tie are you going to wear tonight?” The final frame showed only the President, with a dozen ties all around his neck, all correctly tied but sticking out at various angles. “All of them,” he replied.
The political satirist was making fun of the ambivalence that President frequently displayed. He seemed to have real difficulty making decisions. He wanted everything but often ended up with nothing. His presidency suffered because he failed to take action.
Excellent leaders know that the ability to take timely action is a critical part of success. Ironically, one thing that most people can’t tolerate in a leader is a lack of action. They want to be led, and they want their leaders to deal with issues directly and in a timely manner.
If you are a business owner or a manager at any level, you need to be willing to take action. When there are problems, you need to deal with the problems. Of course, there is a place for relying on subordinates to fix certain problems, but at the end of the day the responsibility sits squarely on your shoulders.
Remember, it is your responsibility. You are the one who needs to take action. That relationship problem between those two employees, that piece of equipment that regularly breaks down at inopportune times, the consistently missed shipping schedule are all ultimately your problems. And you, as a leader need to take action. Your employees expect it, and your success depends on it.