General McLellan was President Lincoln’s first choice to lead the Union army against Confederate forces. McLellan was a terrific organizer, a great logistics man. His main vulnerability was that he could not muster the will to fight. He was a man of planning and organization but not of action. He just could not garner the inner resources to overcome inaction. Inaction manifests an inertia-like quality. It resists change in motion and direction. If inaction continues long enough, it can destroy an army’s will to fight, even to survive. This principle applies equally well in business and organizations – they will eventually fail.
Consequences of Inaction
- Provokes doubt – he who hesitates may not be lost but he certainly will lose momentum and wonder why. Failure to act always provokes questions. You may be certain those questions will ultimately be directed to and aimed at you. Everyone knows leaders are supposed to produce and are paid to produce. Ultimately those who work for you and those for whom you work will not excuse you because of rough water – they will expect you to bring the boat in.
- Contributes to confusion – once doubt has a foothold, the lack of answers will lead to confusion about the role of the worker(s) and the leadership. This will especially happen if someone else, someone other than you, prescribes action.
- The McLellan Syndrome sets in – the will to act wanes, seriously. Now even more effort will be required to get off the dime and get something done. You know the axiom – Lead, Follow, or Get out of the way.
- Failure to achieve breeds failure to try – inertia can be fatal. Gone on long enough, inaction causes the collective “muscle” of your work force to atrophy.
General Ulysses S. Grant was a failure in business and he drank too much. His administration as President of the United States was not the most effective. He was not an efficient organizer and was a bit unrefined. However, history remembers him as the General who won the Civil War and preserved the Union. Why? He was a man who understood the times and knew what to do. He was a man of forceful action fitting of the moment.
The Advantages of Action
- Breeds confidence – Workers gather to work, not to guess, analyze, or surmise. Lack of actionand the failure to prescribe something to do implies to the worker or workers that they do not possess the talent or wherewithal to tackle the challenge.
- Focuses concentration – having a task at hand makes workers prioritize and gives them the opportunity to excel. It does the same thing for you, the leader.
- Builds esteem – Action yields more action. You are, I hope, building subordinates with the capacity to handle greater responsibilities with greater independence. Competence and confidence are essential in a self-motivating self-mobilizing workforce. Prescribed action is the best training.
- Economizes effort – duplicate effort is demoralizing and defeating. Prescribed action from you the leader, who understands the times and knows what to do, creates economy of effort allowing more to be accomplished with less.
Decisions must be made, and executed, well, decisively. When the right decision is made in a timely manner and the right action is prescribed, a symphony of successes is the result.
Tell me your story. How did decisive action work for you? What experience have you had with an indecisive leader slow to act?