BLG Leadership Insights Features Political Competence

Non-Decisions: The Leader as Coward

As we look around there seems to be one common theme that runs through leadership consistently and that is non-decisions.

Non-decisions are decisions. Decisions to do nothing.

One can think of three types of non-decisions:

1. A lack of information non-decision

It’s a decision you don’t make because you are waiting for more information.  It’s rarely clear when you have enough information to move forward, so your entire world becomes an exercise in waiting for Godot (and we all know Godot never shows up).

2. A tactical non-decision

It’s a non-decision based on the hope that time is on your side.

It’s a hope that the more you delay the more conditions will shift in such a way that your position will be enhanced and your decision will become more clear.

In a negotiation setting this is a situation where you hope your position will enhance over time and the other party’s position will diminish.

Well, life is full of surprises and sometimes the reverse might happen.

3. A cowardly non-decision

It’s based on a belief that rocking a situation will only endanger your position. For example: you don’t want to make a decision because it exposes you to attack. It may bring down the wrath of criticism on you. It may weaken you.

There’s a certain narrowness here. The best examples of cowardly non-decisions happen in the political sphere. We need only turn to politicians who are scared to move, lest they alienate their supporters.

Non-Decisions & the Real World

If you look at the Middle East you realize that it is an arena of non-decisions where drift, delay, and verbal procrastination are packaged as negotiations.

If you look at the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu you realize he is a master of non-decisions. Political positions aside, you can appreciate his skills of delay.

The question, however, is: at what point do non-decisions become detrimental?

They become detrimental when they are used as self-serving acts of delay rather than parts of an overall strategy.

At this point non-decisions become the act of a politician—not a leader.

It becomes problematic when a politician decides to make a non-decision, hides it, and makes believe to have made a decision.

Leaders have the right to make non-decisions, but they should call them what they are: a decision not to make a decision now.

This non-decision phenomenon occurs in organizational settings all the time. Leader’s inevitability delay issues, dance around problems, and try to kill time, because they’re not quite sure how to cover all their bases at a particular moment. So they take certain classic actions. They constantly go back to square one. They constantly redefine what’s going on. They constantly discuss processes instead of focusing on output. They constantly review intent and they’re perpetually engaged in research and information gathering.

I’m reminded of a marketing director who was hesitant to launch a new product. He feared that it might fail and kill off his department. The more the delay occurred—the weaker and weaker he became within his organization. The more he hesitated, the more myopic and self-interested he emerged.

The reason for this was simple. He constantly made believe that he was just about to make a decision and in that process, over time, he lost whatever legitimacy he had.

Similarly, leaders should avoid cowardly non-decisions–otherwise they will appear to be myopic politicians.

BLG Leadership Insights

Legacy & Leadership in the Middle East: It’s Come Down to This.

After listening to the speeches given by the President of the United States, the President of Egypt, the Prime Minister of Israel, the King of Jordan, and the President of Palestinian National Authority last night one cannot help but appreciate how often the word ‘leader’ or ‘leadership’ was used and in what capacity. It became apparent that the leaders directly involved, Netanyahu and Abbas, were caught in the same quagmire: they knew that time was running out and the opportunity for a final two state solution was fading.

With all the of outside forces, with all the polarization among their own constituents, both leaders understood that such a moment will demand a particular type of courage–a type of courage that necessitates taking a step beyond the position of their supporters and demands a broad view, rather than a series of incremental, tactical, steps. Too many leaders get trapped in the ancient art of delay, killing time, and muddling through–but sooner or later the issue of legacy, the issue of hopes and dreams, enters into the equation. And in that moment leaders must find their courage, not from their allies and backers, but from their own commitment to legacy.

It seems that much of what will happen in the next number of months will ride on what type of legacy these leaders want to forge. Both Abbas and Netanyahu are great stewards of the art of political survival and brinkmanship. Like all leaders they have shown their political and managerial competence, but now in the latter days of their careers they have come to a place where the drama and the historical possibility will challenge them to go down a very hard path with courage.

All leaders have this moment: the moment when they simply say, “it’s come down to this.”

Picture Credit: Occhichiusi

BLG Leadership Insights Features

The Timing of Leadership

The more I think about leadership, the more I realize that one of the most essential elements is timing. Smart leaders, the best of leaders, have a sense of timing that is parallels an athlete or a ballerina. They have a sense of when to act and when to hold back. That, of course, is no easy trick.

The moment you lose your sense of timing your leadership is greatly handicapped, if not doomed.

Think of any hard leadership decision and your quickly realize that the essential ingredient is timing. The quality and the success of the decision is often impacted by the selection of the right moment.

A classic example is Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of emancipation. As a number of authors have pointed out Lincoln waited until the moment was just right.

The question for any leader is: When is the right moment?

It’s someplace a few steps before the tipping point. Right before the point where everyone sees the direction clearly. It’s the moment before a decision no longer has to be made and where leadership, certainly courageous leadership, is an afterthought.

As they say when the horses are out of the barn it’s too late to climb on board. All you can do is get caught up in the momentum. Leaders therefore have to have a sense of where history is moving. In that sense they must avoid the focal, group-think, short-term, instinct that often negates getting ahead of the crowd. When we talk about a failure of vision or a failure of courage, we are differentiating between those leaders who anticipate history versus those leaders who react to history.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in Tel Aviv and the other week I had an occasion to read an article by Zvi Bar’el in the Haaretz about the importance of ceasing the moment and dealing with the aging president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, in order to pursue regional peace.

The premise of the piece was that Mubarak  may soon pass on and no one really knows what direction Egypt will take from that point on. There is a tendency in the Middle East to deal mostly with the present. Certainly within the current Israeli government there is focus on the present and the short-term. But Mubarak isn’t immortal and things move on. The challenge always is: when should I act? Do you deal with the devil you know or the saint you hope will come?

I sometimes think of the Middle East in the 80s or even the 90s versus the Middle East of today. In the context of today’s radical Palestinian groups, the ones in the past look a lot more moderate. The current right of center government in Israel makes the father of right leaning Israeli nationalism, Menachem Begin, look like a left of center moderate.

Leaders in the Middle East are failing to cease the moment given the fact that things can get a lot worse rather than a lot better. The entire middle east seems to be caught in the short-term myopic mindset reminiscent of the automobile industry in the United States. Seeing what’s under their nose, being accountable to only short term interests, and failing to have the courage to look around the bend.

Point in fact: a few of them have shown a sense of historical timing.

Of course then there is Anwar El Sadat. He would have made one heck of a CEO.

Picture Credit: Amanda Woodward


A Peculiar Silence in Tel Aviv

As is often the case in July, I find myself sitting in my favorite cafe, MIA, in the Neve Tzedek in south Tel Aviv area.

It’s a neighborhood that has, in the last 15 years, evolved from forgotten little houses to resurrected restorations. With book stores, cafes, restaurants, and boutique stores. It’s where, on a Friday morning, or a Saturday afternoon, suburban couples come to, drift around, and have a cup of coffee.

Just a few years ago all conversations were about politics, peace negotiations, and the hope and lack of hope  in the Middle East. Now, even in the context of a nuclear Iran, there is a peculiar silence–a sense that people just don’t really want to talk about what’s happening around them.

It’s not necessarily an ostrich mentality nor is it necessarily a widespread indifference, but rather a type of political burnout–something that’s most apparent among the moderates.

For many years you would sit in any cafe and people would talk about the ‘mazaf,’ or the ‘situation’–a catchall word to describe the political security and social turmoil that is embedded within the country.

A number of years ago this was a focus of discussion in all homes. Today, it seems the energy has been depleted and discussions seem to wander away from anything relating to national politics.  Speak to any moderate and they’ll tell you, “I don’t listen to the news, it’s the same thing over and over again.”

Two days ago I had occasion to sit with a widow who lost her son in one of the wars and when the conversations turned to something of political substance, her response was simply, “What’s there to talk about? Nothing ever changes.”

When I spoke to a well known artists, he could talk about his art, an upcoming exhibit in Dublin, and his grandchildren in Los Angeles, but he echoed the same line when the conversation bent towards politics: “I don’t listen to the news, why bother?”

This mindset has shifted my little coffee shop from being a place on intense conversations to a place where people go after yoga lessons or a forum to discuss an upcoming trip to Bulgaria or a sailing expedition to Crete. Just about anything that allows them an escape from the ‘mazaf,’ the situation.

As moderates become more and more silent and go on more and more trips and take more and more yoga lessons the world is shifting.

Yoga classes might be increasing, but political involvement is decreasing.

Still, how different is this from any other place around the world? Have of all us moderates become exhausted?