by Stephen T. Messenger
February 9, 2021
I watched my eleven-year-old son holding on for dear life at the top of this swaying tower at a rock-climbing gym. He had scampered up there with no problem, but fear was paralyzing him from coming down. It seemed safe enough from the ground: a harness and automatic pulley system to slow the descent. We urged him, “Jump down! It’ll be fun! You can climb back up!” But from the air, he experienced a much different perspective.
I can’t blame him. I can remember all the times in my life where I wanted to accomplish something and lost initiative by hesitating for weeks, months, or in some cases, years. Rarely has inaction been the right decision. Over time, I’ve learned that leaders have to take action if they want to be followed. That’s why the first of five attributes in the RALE+1 Leadership Philosophy is to reject passivity. The old Chinese proverb where a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step does not ring more true. Leaders set goals, get off the couch, and take the first step.
I’ve witnessed successful financial planners reap the benefits of exponential growth, decades after investing their first dollar. I’ve noticed that the people with college degrees enrolled in their first class years ago. And I’ve observed that marathon finishers only conquered their goals because months ago they took their first step of purposeful training. Very few success stories happen overnight; most of these stories can be told because one day, long ago, the champion decided to take action and pursue their dreams.
For leaders, rejecting passivity is more than just an attribute, it’s a way of life. Leaders need to identify a problem and make decisions to move forward. As a young infantry platoon leader, my instructors and commanders beat into my head, “Make a decision, Lieutenant.” I can remember a particular exercise involved assaulting a well-fortified bunker which required a hundred-meter assault up a steep incline. At the bottom, I hesitated. In the after-action review my commander asked why I paused. When I meekly stated I wasn’t quite sure of the situation, he told me that I would never be sure of what’s going on out there. My job isn’t to be sure, it’s to lead. And the only way to lead was to start moving up that hill.
There will always time constraints. There will always be excuses to not start something. There will always be doubt and hesitation. But at the heart of leadership, leaders make decisions and decide to act. It doesn’t have to be the perfect decision; it just has to be one. And by the way, not making a decision is a decision—not in a good way.
This year I have a number of audacious goals that I want to accomplish. Each one requires a first step and action today to achieve a long-term impact. Which areas have you been accepting passivity in your life? Be it financial planning, exercise, education, family, work, or hundreds of other areas, the first step is the most critical in order to move towards the prize.
For me, I showed great passivity in starting this website. I’ve been dreaming about this for over two years now with the capstone article written and ready to go. Even after we set up the foundation of the website, six months passed before I took the leap and hit ‘publish.’ My mind filled with doubt about churning out terrible ideas and boring articles. But even if no one likes or reads these posts, I still harvest the benefits of writing my ideas down and improving my personal leadership through reflection and study. By being passive, I cheated myself out of six months of growth. There are people in your organizations and families that are waiting for you to lead. Now is the time to reject passivity!
My son jumped off the rock-climbing wall in the end. It was terrifying the first time, but the rope system supported his weight, and he scrambled back up the next climb without a fear in the world. I’m not sure he even remembered what he was scared about after he jumped. I know I often wonder whether I’m going to be okay when I take that first leap. But I always am.
One thought on “Reject Passivity (1 of 5)”
These words ring true even for a 65 year old retired person.