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Blog/May 18, 2017

Act Now or Wait Until Tomorrow?

I have studied multiple leadership models over the years but rarely find patience mentioned as a key element. Perhaps that is due to multiple cultural sayings regarding the importance of taking action. Whether, “There is no time like the present,” “Never put off tomorrow what you can do today,” or “Carpe Diem!” leaders are implored to do something now.

Adding to the drumbeat, a flood of advertisements sounds an entitlement theme: Why wait when I can have it now? I deserve it, right? Consider the shock were one to see a modern retail establishment touting its layaway plan…

And the pace of today’s workplace only exacerbates the matter. Many organizations operate on a 24/7 cycle. A recent Bank of America study found that 71% of all Americans now sleep with their smart phones—either by putting the phones on a nightstand or in their beds. I confess to checking that late night email to avoid starting tomorrow one step behind; the temptation is very real.

Our contemporary culture hearkens more, faster, better! But perhaps a dose of less, slower and longer is in order. Allow me to explain through a favorite childhood memory.

Growing up as the son of a family business owner in a small, southern U.S. town, it seemed liked every adult in town knew me. My hands-down favorite was the local jeweler, Joe—a colorful gent who loved to drive about in a vintage convertible with his pet parrot perched obediently on one shoulder.

During one visit to his jewelry store, I noticed that Joe was particularly tanned—and in the middle of February, no less. Joe went on to talk about a recent trip to Miami Beach with a New York diamond trader/friend, from whom he purchased the bulk of his shop’s precious stones.

“We were at the beach, soaking up sun, sipping gin & tonics and smoking fat Cuban cigars when my friend turned to me and said, ‘Joe, you know, I got life figured out and you are all messed up.’” A quick editorial note: This reflects a heavily redacted version of the story; for the unabridged version feel free to reach out on LinkedIn and I will pass along the unabridged—and far more colorful—account.

“’When times are bad you work like a dog. And when they’re good, all you want to do is go to Miami Beach. But me, when times are good I work like a dog, and when times are bad, I go to Miami Beach!’” That, my friends, is wisdom—the patience to know when to do and when not.

Even today there are times when a leader needs to (figuratively) go to Miami Beach. A brilliantly conceived plan implemented with precision but at an inopportune time can be disastrous. Conversely, a mediocre strategy sloppily executed in favorable conditions stands a good chance of success—think, “…a rising tide raises all ships.”

But who wants to wait for the tide? And in the context of business, who says that there will even be a tide? Our ego says do it now: damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! Yet in many instances this ego sends us on a fool’s errand. If only we waited another day to gather additional intelligence and determined which alternative best served the mission at hand.

Thus, wise leaders are open to acting today or waiting for tomorrow, for either is completely acceptable. Their patience recognizes that tomorrow often makes all the difference between success and failure.

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