One of the principles I talk about in my book Catalytic Leadership is for leaders to be boldly action oriented, to have a bias for action. But what happens when that is not the case?

In his book Risk: A User’s Guide, General Stanley McChrystal describes the symptoms of inaction:

  • Slow Reaction Time: Organizations that are biased for inaction tend to be slower to react and sluggish to adapt.
  • Missed Chances: Teams plagued by inertia fail to take advantage of opportunities, too set in their ways to change.
  • Contradictory Efforts: Teams experience whiplash when actions conflict and distract from a goal.
  • Playing Catch-Up with Competitors: Teams that don’t act quickly and effectively are rapidly surpassed by more aggressive and decisive organizations.
  • Analysis Paralysis: We fail to act at all when we are laser focused on identifying options and paralyzed by the number of choices available to us.
  • Reactive Posture: We tend to react (sometimes emotionally) when we are not properly positioned for action.

As I read through General McChrystal’s list, I was struck that leaders tend to be prone to one or two of these more than others. Different leaders in different ways of course, but most all of us will gravitate toward one or two of these.

McChrystal writes, “We often stay where we are because it’s easier not to move – and then rationalize that the choice to “stay put” was ultimately the right decision. While overconfidence can generate inertia, organizations also face a natural aversion to taking extreme measures. There are times when each of us fails to take action, even when we know we should – getting cold feet from fear or sweaty palms at the thought of defying the status quo. But in order to avoid the risks that come with missed opportunity, we must resist this bias for inaction, widening our aperture to act to better our business and team.”

To truly become catalytic in our leadership, we must have a bias for action, not inaction. We must choose to be boldly action oriented. That’s how we grow and get better. Personal and organizational growth only happen on the other side of change – and change happens with action.

Which of McChrystal’s symptoms do you recognize in your leadership journey? Do you struggle with the same ones today that you did five or ten years ago? What made the difference if they have changed?

How do you plan to intentionally overcome these symptoms today?

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