Brilliant Leadership: The Need for Speed


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“Looking back over my career, I have never made a tough change that I haven’t wished I had made a year or so earlier.” This confession* comes from Andrew Grove, former chairman of Intel and a person who had faced a tough problem or two over his career. Just about all of us, when facing tough decisions, can relate—it is much more inviting to hesitate and procrastinate than to make a choice that you just don’t want to deal with.

In retrospect, it is fairly easy (although not always comfortable) to look back upon major decisions and discover that there was plenty of information available early on to justify/confirm/demand the decision. In fact, in almost all cases of importance, it is not a lack of cost-benefit justification that slows or stalls big decision making, it is the defenders of the status quo: Fear and Dread.

Here is an example: Think about senior management in a product company (maybe your company) who are faced with overwhelming data supporting the business need to transition their strategy from product-centric to services-led. Yet behind these logical facts are lingering feelings of unease that stall moving ahead. Fear is one of those feelings, because the company’s future (and that of the executives) may be at risk if things go wrong. Also, executives may question their ability to lead and their organization’s ability to implement the necessary transition. They probably also feel Dread when anticipating all the hassle (challenging the organizational culture and dealing with individual personalities) involved in bringing about a change of this magnitude. Is it any wonder that more meetings are scheduled and another study is commissioned (good for consultants!)? Often, the logical required action is delayed for months (or sometimes years). Sadly, what could have been a bold move preempting the competition becomes a desperate reaction to catch up with the field.

A little Fear and Dread are a part of all decisions, but they really become a problem when dealing with those big, complex, gooey issues that have potential for major impact, either good or bad. You may be facing this type of situation right now…so might your prospects as they mull over your professional services proposals.

Here are three things to do to accelerate important decision making:

  1. Realize that Fear and Dread will be a part of any major decision, and consider their impact when building your proposals and communications. Be prepared to speak about that which is not often spoken.
  2. Face Fear through risk mitigation. Analyze all the potential bad outcomes of the decision, and develop actions to eliminate them. Involve key players in the discussion to talk about options to lessen risks. Just stating the issues up front and demonstrating action will greatly lower the underlying fear level.
  3. Lessen the hassle factor. Think through all the potential personal negative impacts on the people making the decision. Plan out steps to lessen their hassles and communicate what will be done to make things easier and less personally burdensome. Give examples where these steps have worked.

Tough decisions are, well, tough! Taking too much time to make them just postpones and prolongs the pain. Address Fear and Dread head-on to compress the cycle of decision making. In most all cases, fast is better than slow. Have a need for speed.


* Grove, Andrew. 1996. Only the Paranoid Survive. New York: Doubleday.

James Alexander, EdD
James "Alex" Alexander has a doctorate in Human Resource Development, and after a dozen years in corporate life has spent more than two decades helping product companies build brilliant services businesses. Alex researches, publishes, advises, trains, and speaks on transforming good services organizations into high-performance services machines that create loyal customers, drive sales of services and products, and dominate the competition. He has written five research studies, four books, and over 150 articles, and has spoken, consulted, and trained in 25 countries.


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