The Tests Of Timing

By Dr. John C. Maxwell

When to Lead Is As Important As What to Do and Where to GoIn my experience, the toughest law of leadership to teach is the Law of Timing. As an intuitive skill, timing is intangible, which makes it extremely difficult to explain. Many veteran leaders describe their timing for major decisions with phrases such as, €œI had a gut feeling the moment was right, or €œI sensed we couldn`t wait any longer. For an aspiring leader in search of answers, this lack of concreteness can be more than a little frustrating. The goal of both this lesson and the next issue of Leadership Wired is to de-mystify the Law of Timing by identifying six areas of awareness that affect timely decision-making.Awareness powers a leader`s internal clock so that he or she can exercise the right timing in decision-making. In this edition of LW, we`ll unpack three of the six areas of the environment to which a leader must be attuned for proper timing. Within each area of awareness, we`ll also look at tests that can be applied to assure the potential success of time-sensitive decisions.

Timing`s Areas of Awareness

#1 Awareness of the Needs Around You

Leaders interact in an environment abounding with needs. Customers, partners, and co-workers all have needs.Needs are all around us, but they are also within us. Leaders are able to look beyond their own needs to sense and respond to the needs of others.

The Listening Test – €œAm I aware of other people`s needs?

The philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, €œIf a man can make a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door. But Emerson was wrong! You must beat a path to the customer`s door to find out what he wants and needs. Stunning innovation and brilliantly designed new products are only part of the answer. Fortunately, Mr. Emerson made his living as a philosopher €“ not as a company president.

The Values Test – €œWho am I?
The legendary Greek philosopher, Socrates, implored his pupils to €œKnow thyself. As true now as it was for the ancient Greeks, leaders clarify the needs around them when they get in touch with their deeply held beliefs and convictions.

The Mission Test – €œWhat is my purpose?
Discern the connection between the needs around you and the calling within you. At this intersection, you will make decisions that make a difference.

The Priority Test – €œShould I do this?
Eradicating world poverty, widening the roads causing traffic congestion in your neighborhood, and finding copy machines that jam less frequently are all valid needs, and each may resonate within you. However, with limited time and resources, leaders must prioritize attention and effort to be effective.

In the words of W.E.B Dubois, €œNature makes men narrow in order to give them force.

The Reality Test – €œCan I do this?
Before taking action, a leader must honesty assess present resources to determine whether or not the timing is realistic to pursue the remedy for a perceived need.

#2 Awareness of the Reality Before You

Decisions have consequences€”positive and negative, intended and unintended. Leaders with a flair for timing are able to foresee the implications of their courses of action.

The Murphy`s Law Test – €œWhat could possibly go wrong? Could I accept the consequences?
Murphy`s Law says that if something can go wrong, it probably will. When assessing the ramifications for decisions leaders must take into account the repercussions of failure.

The Common Sense Test €“ €œDoes this opportunity make sense or am I trying to make sense out of it?
Opportunities can be alluring, and CEO`s at the highest level have been known to fall in love with impractical and costly pet projects. Plain common sense can be the best deterrent to far-fetched opportunities.

The Preparation Test €“ €œAm I prepared to do this?
Consider the sacrifices involved before jumping into an opportunity. Overcommitment is one of the most energy draining and stress-inducing flaws of a leader.

However, keep in mind that preparation is not total consensus or knowing all of the answers before starting. All too often, would-be decision-makers keep collecting, analyzing, and reanalyzing information, hoping for that one last convincing detail that will dictate the correct choice.

Former Secretary of State and 4-star General, Colin Powell, in a Time magazine interview, said that if zero represents no data and 100 represents all of the data needed to make a decision, he usually waits until he`s at about 60, then he uses gut instincts, intuition, and personal experience to make the choice.

The Option Test €“ €œDo I increase or decrease my options by waiting?
Will the passage of time shrink available options or create new ones? Sometimes, the opportunity becomes narrower and more difficult to pursue in the future. However, other opportunities expand in the light of new developments.

The Deadline Test €“ €œWhen is the best time to make the right decision?
Quite simply, several opportunities come with a €œtake it or leave it tag. Time dictates that the opportunity immediately be grasped or lost. With other opportunities, time diminishes their value. As Lee Iacocca said, €œThe right decision is the wrong decision if it`s made to late.

#3 Awareness of the Influencers Behind You

Every organization has key influences that must be on board in order for pivotal decisions to be made. To excel at the art of timing, leaders must court the support of these influencers.

The Respect Test €“ €œHave I earned the influencers` respect?
Everyone has the right to speak, but you have to earn the right be heard. Do your words carry the weight of respect?

The Commitment Test €“ €œAre the influencers affirming or committing?
Verbal affirmation is encouraging, but when you begin to confront the obstacles of a new initiative, you had better be sure the influencers behind you are willing to fight with you in the trenches.

The Resources Test €“ €œWill the influencers provide what is needed?
Many leaders make the mistake of chasing after attractive opportunities, only to be hung out to dry when a major donor or investor backs out of their pledged assistance. Can you count on the support of the influencers behind you?


“Charisma is the transference of enthusiasm.”
~ Ralph Archbold

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