In the Twelve Days of Christmas song, it’s actually ten lords a leaping, but if you play with the words, leaders are seen as lording over things and what’s worse is most seem unable to stay in their position for more than five minutes. So, are you one of those leaders leaping from job to job, taking big risks, and treating each role as merely temporary? If so, there are likely scars in your reputation and online profile, more obvious than the skid marks left by your rapid and frequent departures. Or maybe you’ve just quit and forgotten to tell anyone you’ve mentally left the building. Let’s look at leaping and how it applies to leadership and critical thinking. Let’s look at whether or not this is a best practice for a leader looking for long term career development. And let’s look at three areas in which the leaping mindset could be altered to show more stable dedication to your current position or career, so that you might be offered a better position without having to take such a big leap of faith to find it. In fact, let’s start there…
Leap of Faith
In our language, taking a leap of faith suggests you take a risk believing all will work out in the end. You’ll land on your feet and all will be fine, despite sometimes obvious signs that a rational mind would take into consideration. While a delightful belief and show of faith, more and more lately, I’ve seen managers take this approach with their careers, quitting quite randomly without any position secured to replace the one just left. They are leaving without thinking through the impact. Even with historically low unemployment numbers, this is a risky proposition, particularly if you’ve not clarified the answer to these three career questions:
- If money were no object and responsibilities were less, what would you do that right now might seem like a gargantuan risk?
- What specific elements of your current position have provoked you to consider leaving before securing a new position?
- What is the detailed description of your ideal location, position, and employment organization?
For managers leaping to a new position without this level of clarity, what is happening over and over again, is the realization that they’ve escaped one version of a disliked position only to find themselves in a new version of the same problems. Hold off on that leap of faith until you can see quite clearly where you’re leaping.
Look Before You Leap
Some might say this is a more cautious person’s approach. Big risk takers might even skip this entire section for lack of relevance. And yes, leaders who spend inordinate amounts of time looking and searching and seeking information before making any decisions are often seen as holding up the process. These actions are also radically contrary to the behavior of much of the millennial generation, said to be averaging less than one year in any position. Perhaps we need balance. Looking before one leaps, whether to a new position, a new company, or even to a new project or stretch assignment, is prudent. Looking ahead helps you to mitigate risk, to prepare, and to develop options or skills that might soon be needed. Failing to look leaves you caught by surprise, caught red handed holding the bag of responsibility with only your immediate reactionary skills to handle what’s needed. Looking before you leap is a lesson often learned the hard way. But what if it weren’t? What if you simply added 1 day or 1 hour to any decision-making process. Check one more thing than you would normally. Ask one more question. Conduct a tiny bit more investigation into what they’re not telling you, so you can make a more informed decision. Only then might you find the rationale and justification to engage in this final possible action…
Have you ever noticed that companies reward fast action at the front line, but make decisions at the top at the pace of a sloth at the races? This is because big decisions have an important element: timing. Our culture, our technology, our kids, and our brains have become accustomed to instant gratification. Millions of bits of info in a split second from a device that fits in our pocket. Not everything that is worth having is worth rushing. Not everything must happen right this second and yet, that same mentality creates leaping among leadership. No rewards are given for those who choose to wait a moment before jumping into action. Seeing how the plan plays out first is not often done before someone demands immediate changes. Letting a situation, team, or project simmer, while new ideas are generated, and information percolates as we’re thinking takes far longer than looking up how do we fix x problem right now on the internet. Sometimes holding is the best decision. Find the value in waiting until the stars align. Take small actions to help make progress but make giant steps taking more infrequent. Hold if the decision doesn’t feel quite right. Hold if the story doesn’t pass the sniff test. Hold if something is telling you there is a cliff where you ‘re about to do some leaping.
Deciding not to make a move, take on a new role, or dive into another project is still making a decision. Choosing to check into more information about your possible new assignment or position is prudent and prevents the clouded judgment that comes from rushing. Changing the focus of your faith from it’ll all work out to I know I will make a good decision may just be the kind of radical leap in thinking most needed. Instead of being so busy leaping from one position to the next or to the next big and visible opportunity, showcase how good you are at decision making by doing perhaps a bit less leaping into things you might later regret doing.
Monica Wofford, CSP is a leadership development specialist who coaches, consults with, and speaks to leaders of all levels, building their skills, emotional intelligence and authenticity. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.