A leader must be action-oriented, turning his decisions into plans. Because of their inner drive and ambition, most would-be leaders have no problem with this part of a leader's role. But the sequence of steps that leads up to the actual doing must be fully mastered; otherwise, action becomes erratic and unreliable. All important actions follow the same template.
1. A challenge presents itself.
2. The situation is assessed.
3. Consultation is called in.
4. A decision is made.
5. Action is taken - there is something to do.
6. A result is achieved.
7. Responsibility for the result is accepted.
What makes action far more difficult in the real world than any model can indicate is that all seven steps are generally present at the same time, because challenges don't arrive in a neat linear sequence like boxcars on a railroad track. Every day is filled with things to assess, decisions to make, advice from consultants, and so on. Old decisions come back to haunt you, and new challenges always come with the burden of old results.
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It is this constant overlapping and merging that makes leadership so human, because you can't rely on a simple formula for action. Anyone who reads the biographies of great generals or captains of industry quickly realizes that the "fog of war" could be called "the fog of leadership" just as well. It takes consciousness to negotiate your way through murky situations. In most situations of great importance, this comes down to group consciousness - a leader with a good team behind him has a better chance of arriving at the right action in time to make a difference.
But nothing replaces individual awareness, so you will benefit yourself if you look closely at the seven steps of action, with an eye to maximizing each one. At business school, where the standard procedure is case studies, the advantage of hindsight, which exposes the fatal flaws or great astuteness of action plans, is offset in the real world by the fog that surrounds every situation, no matter how clear-cut it may seem.
What can cut through this fog? See every situations as feedback that centers on you, then on the challenge, and finally on the group. Ask these critical questions:
Is the feedback mostly positive?
Am I being realistic?
What are the hidden factors that need to be exposed?
What am I reluctant to see?
What do I feel anxious about?
Where is resistance coming from?
Am I centered?
How well have I calculated risk and reward?
What will my decision look like a year from now?
If you know the answers to these questions, first as applied to yourself, then to the challenge at hand, and finally to your team or group, the action you eventually take will avoid the worst aspects of bad decisions, which are impulsiveness, hidden traps, a reluctance to face reality, and ego attachment. Those bad qualities exist in famous catastrophes from Napoleon's invasion of Russia to the fall of Lehman Brothers. In every case the failure was preventable only at the top level of leadership. It wasn't external chaos but internal confusion that led to disaster.
Yet even minor decisions come down to the same thing, an ability to cut through the fog of the situation by cutting through the fog in your own awareness.