Nailed or Hailed — What to Do?

I like to collect leadership definitions, and one of my favorites comes from author and Kennedy School of Government professor Marty Linsky: Disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb.

This definition relates to change, but for me, it also relates to risk management. Nothing disappoints like failure.

As leaders, we avoid risk when we are too afraid of failure. But we also avoid risk when we are too averse to our people failing. There is danger in this, because people learn through failure, and we can shield our teams from the risk of failure to the point where we never take risks. That’s when we inhibit forward movement, innovation, and learning.

As a life-long St. Louis Cardinals fan, I have learned that baseball managers must make countless split-second decisions from the team dugout during a game. Do I leave this pitcher in the game, or is it time to pull him? Should we try to steal a base? Should we walk this batter and take our chances on the next one? Should I place our star 1st baseman on tonight’s starting roster, even though his knee may not be completely healed?

Compounding the issue is the fact that all of this plays out in front of thousands in the stadium, and millions watching on TV. Team fans and the media are second guessing you every step of the way, many of them screaming at their TVs when it goes wrong. As Former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa reveals in his book One Last Strike, if you get it wrong, you are NAILED. But if you get it right, you are HAILED. Those are high stakes!

How does that play out in your leadership role? Do you ever make decisions based on the prospects of being nailed or hailed? How much weight does that have on the decision? The effective leader takes as much of that as possible out of the decision-making equation (easier said than done, if we’re honest).

How much risk are you willing to put your team through? How far do you stretch them? We don’t get every decision right. And often, making no decision is as bad (or worse) than making a poor decision. So how do we make decisions?

And here is the real question, as it relates to the Linsky leadership definition: Do you know the disappointment absorption rate of your team members? How aligned is your leadership style with that rate?

Can you think of an important decision you are currently facing?

Here are some questions you may find helpful when making your next tough choice:

  • What do my team members think?
  • What is the worst that could happen in each case?
  • What would be the implications of that scenario?
  • What value would this decision add?
  • What negative consequence might this decision have?
  • Who should be consulted?
  • How important is this decision right now? Can it be delayed?
  • Am I actually the right person to make this decision?
  • How many right answers are there? Are there more than two choices? Am I sure?
  • What, if any, moral or ethical implications are at stake?
  • Which decision best aligns with our mission, vision, values, and strategic direction?

These are just a few? Do you have any to add? Feel free to comment below!

That’s the Jinks Perspective!


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