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How do you feel when someone says, ‘just give it a try?”. Or what about if you watch a video that contains great advice, do you put it into action?

Organisations stagnate if their people don’t experiment and grow. In an ever-changing landscape the ability to adapt and explore new thinking and ideas are essential for success. Yet all too often, those neat ideas or lightbulbs simply don’t get actioned.

A stick man shooting at a target with a cross bow and keeps missing.
Don't be afraid to experiment. If at first you don't succeed, keep going.

Why is that?

There are many reasons why people stop dead in their tracks when it comes to taking action but at the root of it is a fear and insecurity.

They might feel

  • They aren’t ready

  • They will do it wrong

  • They don’t have enough hard data

  • That others will judge them

  • That they don’t have what it takes

  • They think it’s too late

  • They can’t be bothered

  • That their boss doesn’t do it so it will cause problems

  • That it just feels clunky and unnatural

The list really is endless.

Feel free to tick any/all that apply to you!

At the heart of it, if you want improvement but aren’t taking the necessary action to make a positive change it’s because you FEAR something. Covid has created real struggles for people as they navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic. This leads to a desire to maintain the status quo; to grip onto some sort of control in these uncertain times. Trying new things when so much is new or challenging simply does not compute.


At the very time organisations really need people to step up and be more, people are retrenching into their place of comfort. And even the best leaders are struggling to tackle this tension.

Case study

Maddie is a Senior Director of a Buying team. She saw a great opportunity to get the team together, safely, during the gaps in lockdown but she missed a vital opportunity to reconnect her people. She invited them all to a ‘work together’ day. The team met in a stylish hotel – they had a large room for the day with plenty of air and space, a nice lunch, and an opportunity to ‘be’ physically present with each other. People were excited to be together again. As people arrived, they were given a space to work. All the senior team were on hand to have a chat with, and they mingled around the tables catching up with their teams. Maddie did too. The morning was buzzy as people caught up with their colleagues, but the afternoon slumped.

Why was that?

Maddie had brought them altogether but missed the opportunity to inspire, energise and refocus the team. She had the gear and had prepared a ‘speech’ – her bit of inspiration, but decided not to deliver it. The feedback was that the team expected something ‘more’, it seemed like a lot of effort and money just to do their day job. Maddie had missed the vital opportunity to speak to them as a collective, to refocus their energy and effort and to spark the collaboration that had reduced with people working from home. They simply got on with their work, just in a different place with people around them.

Maddie’s intentions were to be commended but she lost out on that crucial opportunity to make a difference because when it came to it, she felt, in her mind, that it wasn’t right when it was absolutely what was necessary.

Making a difference

All organisations have a strategy - some are better than others granted, but they all have a strategy. All too often leaders aren’t providing the clarity and guidance to know what to do with it. Assumptions abound and this means the connection is lost and execution is left to chance. Which is why so many strategic plans falter.

But now it is even more complicated than that.

a lightening storm
We are in the eye of a social, health and economic storm in which confusion reigns.

The world is in the eye of a storm - a social, health and economic storm the likes of which we have never seen before. Confusion is the norm and now, managers need to explore new and different opportunities to help drive high performance.

NOW is the time for leaders to take positive action!

Fast learning and action is the name of the game. All leaders need a game plan.

The leadership role is not a passive one – it is all about action and proactivity. In everything they do, leaders need to be asking ‘what value can I add here?’ Leaders are there to provide that vital spark for action and engagement. They are there to clear roadblocks and help people connect with others, ideas, and goals. Leaders are channels for value. If they aren’t doing that, what are they doing?

It's time to be clumsy

All too often, leaders share the same fears that their team does. They might be perfectionists and feel that no-one will do ‘it’ as well as they can or they might worry that someone will mess up so they micro-manage. Whatever the reason. Many leaders hold back when they need to try new things; to experiment and be prepared for it to be clumsy and clunky.

Leaders could continue to manage by numbers and act under the false assumption that on its own it will drive people to want to take the action necessary to make those numbers. But they won’t get the results they desire. This is because when leaders place heavy emphasis on the numbers, they inadvertently create an intensity which produces tension. This pushes people over the zone of optimum performance.

The Yereks Dodson Performance Curve
Find the zone of peak performance by providing interest, attention and safe stretch

Leaders can sense that people have gone over the peak so they back off and retreat into their own comfort zone of process mindset – doing the doing rather than outcome mindset of ‘what value can I add here?’

Leaders' Game Plan

1. Make a choice to add value.

Recognise that you really are a channel for value. You can make or break the success of your team. It all depends on the choices you are prepared to make and then the commitment with which you follow through on those choices. You are in that incredible position where everything you do has an impact. You can choose for that impact to be positive or negative.

2. Know no action is neutral

Whether it’s a conversation, a project or devising an excel spreadsheet - everything you do has an impact. It’s time for you to decide. To decide between just getting on with it or deciding to ensure that all your actions add value and move you, your team and your organisation forward. And when it doesn’t move you forward (because of course you’re going to make mistakes - that’s a given and it’s ok) own it, learn fast and move forward again.

In the many hundreds of organisations across different sectors with which we have worked, one thing is consistent.

Most leaders do not lead. And most managers do not manage. They dabble in both which leads to ambiguity and confusion.

  • They create visions and hope that they are inspiring enough and for some people they are. But for the majority they are not.

  • They do the one to ones, but they follow the process for safety and don’t lean into potentially difficult conversations leaving performance problems unchallenged.

  • They have regular team meetings that share information but miss the chance for real collaboration and engagement.

  • They fail to take positive action where needed because they fear being exposed in front of their team.

The list goes on.

A climate of low expectations has become the norm.

Now is the time for you to take positive action.

You need to be agile and constantly seek out simple improvements that can impact on profitability or cost. The very existence of your organisation and your job could be in peril if you don’t.

3. Create a positive climate of high expectation

When a climate of high expectation and support is created, incredible things can happen. People need stretch and challenge to be their best and move them into the zone of peak performance. Stretching expectations encourage people to be the best they can be - highlighting strengths, possibilities, and solutions, rather than weaknesses, threats, and problems.

4. Communicate regularly

As a leader it is key to build interest and attention to move people away from what’s concerning them and towards helping them stretch beyond the draw of their comfort zone. This means helping them understand and be interested in the why of what they are doing and supporting them to develop a keen focus on what they are doing. This is where your 121s and team meetings have a vital role to play in ensuring you can build momentum towards your goals. These processes also help with clearing the way and problem solving with any challenges people face that are slowing them down.

5. Keep working on yourself

Whether you see yourself as a high performing leader or not, keep on learning. Inspiration and ideas can sometimes come from rather unusual sources if you are tuned into it. If you are heads down all the time you won’t be attuned to the stimulus that you need. As leaders operating in uncertain times, you need clarity. That clarity of purpose, of goals and of focus will define your success. The clarity you show will shine through to your teams and become the guiding light for them.

A lighthouse shining at night
Be the lighthouse for those around you.

Once the lighthouse is seen, the rest of the sea is ignored”

Terri Guillemets

Be the lighthouse, embrace the clumsy and clunky and congratulate yourself because you are prepared to take the necessary action to be the leader your team needs.

If you are looking for an injection of ideas to help you build high performing leadership habits, join us on Velocity starting on 7th March. You can find out more about here.

1 Comment

Wendy Gannaway
Wendy Gannaway
Feb 02, 2022

I love the point that No Action Is Neutral! And this includes communication too. I'm reminded some wise words "No communication is a communication". Yes all leaders act with positive intention, as we all do. I think sometimes that positive intention needs to be emphasised and checked out to see if it achieved the intended outcome, if not...then time to change it and be ready to feel clumsy and awkward if it means doing something in a different way.

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