In a recent television program, the boss of the business said, “When there is no clear option the best thing is to do nothing.” This put my remaining brain cells to work. What exactly does this mean? How well did the individual research his options before arriving at the conclusion that there was no clear option? Did he give consideration to the consequences of inaction?
Unfortunately, I stopped watching the show to ponder the answers to the question and did not, as a result, see how it all turned out. So, as I normally do, I will explore the statement further on my own.
For the statement to make any sense we must assume that a thorough examination of the situation was conducted. The objectives and the desired outcomes had to be well established. The vision of the desired outcome had to be very clear and well defined. All those concerned must have been consulted and their ideas and suggestions must have been explored.
We also must assume that a “best option” is not acceptable. It must be a “clear option.” I have made many decisions in my life, with a few turning out well, however, I don’t recall ever having a “clear option.” Mine were always the perceived best option under the present circumstances and with the present body of knowledge. I have often stated that a decision is only right or wrong once the actual decision is implemented and the results are established.
A clear option would require a clairvoyance that I don’t possess. I don’t think many do have that ability. No matter what you do to try to divine the correct option, there will always be unperceived and unexpected circumstances that may just make that clear option a clearly bad choice once made.
The search for this elusive option, in my opinion, is one of the biggest mistakes a leader can make if it freezes the organization. We maintain the present situation by inaction even though we searched for options that were perceived to be necessary. A better statement may be that “When there is no clear option to change the present state, the best action is to stop and do nothing more.” Just continue to march in the present situation and accept it. This brings to mind; If things cannot be accepted, they must be changed. If things cannot be changed, they must be accepted.
In contrast to the only act when there is a clear option mentality is the “Do something, even if it’s wrong” mentality. I had a boss years ago who was a valued mentor to me even though we disagreed a bunch. He hated inaction from his people and would encourage and even demand that people not freeze in their decisions. He would prefer to correct undesired results than to not do anything at all.
What my boss failed to see was that the people were afraid to make decisions because the repercussions of a bad outcome were always unpleasant, not from him, from his partner. His partner did not recognize that these were opportunities to train people rather than an opportunity to chastise them.
My boss was also the one that taught me that a good leader does not allow his people to avoid their responsibilities by dumping their decisions on him. He always asked people to explore options and bring him three options and a well thought out recommendation. This is great advice for all of you who manage or lead people.
Let’s go back to the clear option thing and assume that something caused us to want to change the present situation. If I had to decide between “clear option or no choice” or “do something even if wrong” the clear option is to do something (and hope it’s not wrong).
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