Value of speed in seizing opportunities

At what point do you decide that you’ve planned enough, you’ve trained enough and it’s time to execute?  If you go too early there’s a risk you will be caught short due to a lack of preparation and planning.  But if you wait too long the risk is someone else will beat you to market, thereby seizing the opportunity. 

The balance for all leaders is finding the right time to act. Leaders need to be decisive and they need to make decisions, sometimes decisions without deliberation.  If you consult, act with good integrity and good intent and make a decision that ultimately proves to be incorrect, often you will be forgiven.  But as leaders if we fail to make decisions for fear of making the wrong decision we won’t be forgiven.

Having worked in crisis situations across the globe that includes; the Bali bombings, the South East Asian tsunami that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, the equally devastating 2011 Japanese tsunami and the floods of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia I’ve witnesses many leaders act in times of crisis. 

The decisions made by the good leaders are calculated, backed with confidence and based upon the gathering of appropriate intelligence that gives them the information required to make decisions.  But there is also a strong theme of decisiveness across these leaders.  They know people are looking to them and they know it is their responsibility to make those decisions.  These decisions will be executed with control and a level of calmness that instills confidence in the team looking to the leaders.

Those leaders who act too quickly or equally take too long will soon loose the support of their teams. 

Many organisations don’t operate in true crisis situations, but the importance of making timely decisions applies equally for those leaders as it does for those working in the field of disaster and crisis situations.

Many of the international arenas in which I have worked the teams who deploy will be multi-national teams that are assembled shortly after arrival.  In these situations there is no obligation to follow the leaders from different countries.  Unlike that of our corporate teams where most positions and therefore leaders hold their positions of authority based upon an org chart which dictates who are the leaders. 

In the aftermath of South East Asian tsunami, approximately 400 forensic specialists arrived from thirty six different countries.  They arrived with an agreed upon structure within their team, but there certainly wasn’t an international org chart which dictated who would take control. 

There were many different sites across the devastated areas in which the forensic teams would deploy.  Without a pre-determined level of authority and who would take such positions, it was, in the main, left to the actions and reactions of the leaders who stepped forward that quickly determined who would take control.  As the leaders demonstrated their competence and control, making rational decisions, which didn’t always prove to be right mind you, other international teams stepped and followed those who had assumed the positions of leadership and acted decisively. 

It wasn’t that the leaders who took control had a greater level of competence, experience or knowledge than the rest, it was just that they took action.

Finding the balance of when to act and when to wait is not often found in a formula like a maths equation.  It does come with experience and confidence.

The tech startup space is filled with stories of those who have captured the market, often with what retrospectively seems like such a simple idea, but there must be thousands of others who waited just that too long, tried to perfect just that bit too much, to find they were beaten to the market and by the time they arrived, the concept was “owned” by someone who moved faster.  Their idea might not be all that different, it won't necessary be better, but they were first.

We won’t always get it right, but at least the mistakes we make along the way are evidence that we tried something.