The Hesitant Leader

You know the saying…”He who hesitates is lost!” Right? Well, it depends!

When I was a young banker with a few bucks in my account, I was looking for the next hot investment. It was the 80s and people were buying businesses left and right, and I wanted in on the action. My first deal was awesome. A friend mentioned that company XYZ was ripe for a takeover, targeted to be snatched up any day. So I wrote a check and, sure enough, I doubled my investment in a week.

A month or so later I had a similar opportunity. I bought a few shares in a hot new IT venture and waited for the deal to drop. But the only thing that dropped was my investment. I watched it dwindle to zero as potential buyers went looking elsewhere for their next target. I was a bold, quick, decisive risk-taker. I re-discovered another popular saying…”Speed kills.”

Sometimes the one who hesitates is lost. There’s some truth to that. Waiting too long can be as dangerous as acting too quickly. But is there merit in waiting? What do wise leaders do? When should we act boldly and when should we hesitate?

Perhaps it depends on why we wait, not that we wait at all. Andy Stanley offers some great insights in a favorite book of mine, Next Generation Leader. Andy said that there is a difference between being careful and being fearful. If we hesitate because of fear, we will never lead well. But if we hesitate because we are being careful and wise, then people will follow our lead.

Here’s how Andy compares the two.

Careful versus Fearful

  • Careful is cerebral; fearful is emotional
  • Careful is fueled by information; fearful by imagination
  • Careful calculates risk; fearful avoids risk
  • Careful wants to achieve success; fearful wants to avoid failure
  • Careful is concerned about progress; fearful is concerned about protection

Are you hesitating to make a key decision? Why? If because of fear, you’ll never lead. But if you are waiting because you are careful – weighing the options, calculating the risk, doing your homework – then you’ll never lack for followers.

When your gut causes you to wonder, it may be a sign to wait and get some more information. Generally, use as much time as you can before making a big decision.

Maybe we should create a new saying. “He who hesitates is…wise.”

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