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Leaders: Get rid of the ‘Mother may I?’ mindset

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Don't ask for permission, ask for forgiveness. There, I said it.

And it's a statement I make repeatedly to managers and supervisors, particularly those who are new to a leadership role. Here's why.

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The most successful leaders are those who make decisions and take action. But many people in management roles, particularly those who are fairly new to their responsibilities, have a tendency to examine and evaluate, and dither and dally. Their intentions are admirable, after all they don't want to make a poor decision. But in their quest for better information and sound analysis, they put off taking action, ultimately becoming a victim of the situation, rather than getting in the driver's seat and at least attempting to influence the outcome.

When I say don't ask for permission, I don't mean that you should blunder into a course of action without a reasonable level of thought and deliberation. And I don't mean that you should blindly take stupid risks. But let's be clear; I am pushing those in leadership roles to have a bias for action. As a new (or for that matter, experienced) manager or team leader, the last thing you want to be known for is a "Mother, may I?" mindset. Don't fall into the trap of constantly checking with someone else before you move forward.

Yes, I know, those of you who are prone to this approach likely view it as gathering information and seeking collaboration. But there is a fine (and almost invisible) line between seeking input and being indecisive. The unvarnished truth: leaders are respected and valued for making decisions and taking action, both by their staff and their superiors. In the balance, if you're going to develop a reputation in your organization, far better that it be for a predisposition towards decisive action rather than for indecisiveness. So don't ask for permission!

Now, with this bias for action comes the absolute certainty that some of your choices – in hindsight – will not be ideal. While not an overwhelming number, I can still guarantee that there will be at least a few times when you will smack your forehead bemoaning the course of action that you took, and wishing that you chose another alternative. And it's in these situations that you may find it necessary to ask for forgiveness from those in the higher echelons of your organization. But seeking forgiveness does not mean falling to your knees and soliciting absolution. In fact, it doesn't even need to be an apology. Consider this:

"Given the information available at the time, this seemed like the best course of action. However, hindsight being what it is, I now realize that it wasn't the best alternative. On the positive side, this situation has offered me a learning opportunity, and I now have a new and different insight into how I can manage a similar situation in the future." Nary a "sorry" or other word of apology, but nevertheless a respectful way to respond to the times when your decision turned out to be the wrong one.

In those instances when the passage of time proves your choices wrong, your confidence may falter. But keep in mind that the reason you got your management job in the first place is very likely because you have a track record of good judgement. So don't be afraid to use it. And when things occasionally go awry, take a moment to remember this.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Don't ask for permission, ask for forgiveness. Far better to be known for making an occasional bad decision than to be identified as someone who makes no decisions at all.

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Merge Gupta-Sunderji (@mergespeaks) is a speaker and author who turns managers into leaders, drawing upon her over 17 years of first-hand experience as a leader in corporate Canada. Reach her or join the conversations on her blog at www.TurningManagersIntoLeaders.com.

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