My mother-in-law, Elizabeth Fahy Dierickx, lived a long life, 96 years. She was a strong, smart, no-nonsense woman who knew how to take care of what needed taking care of. Along the way, she had some fun, but not before she took care of business. She and my father-in-law took a month long vacation in Australia and New Zealand the year they both turned 80. After that trip, she said to me, in private, “don’t wait.” I asked, “for what?” She said, “anything.” It was perhaps the most poignant moment I ever had with her.

I have certainly waited when I shouldn’t have and notice that my clients and prospective clients have an unfortunate habit of waiting. Often they don’t realize that they prefer waiting to taking action. They wait to “see what happens,” for someone to “get it,” for others to respond, things to “fall into place,” someone to tell them what to do. What is all this waiting about?

Avoidance. Avoidance of what?

  • Decisions
  • Actions
  • Unpleasantness
  • Complication
  • Fallout
  • Responsibility

What happens by waiting?

  • Entrenchment
  • Groupthink
  • Stagnation
  • Loss of control
  • Falling to last place

What is a leader to do? Wake up.

Wake up to the tendency to avoid tough decisions by waiting. Wake up to the temptation to believe that things will change because we want them to. Wake up to the fact that, even the smartest people are subject to human frailties. To do otherwise makes even the brightest person, vulnerable, if not arrogant. Wake up to the reality that while you are waiting things are actually happening. No one is waiting for your waiting to be over before they act.

Wake up to waiting on purpose. Postponing, letting things play out and waiting for information are very different than falling into the invisible decision trap of avoiding a decision. Even good and smart leaders can fall into these traps. You can postpone a decision but don’t put off making sure you are working in the light of day with fresh air, not in echo chamber created by waiting with others equally afraid to act.

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