No Guts, No Glory

Reasons for project failure seem to be as many and varied as snowflakes. Some of the more common culprits: Lack of executive sponsorship. Poorly defined goals. Lousy planning. Inadequate resources.

Company politics. Loss of enthusiasm. Perfectionism. Uncertainty. Hesitation. Distraction. Procrastination. Inertia. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of the unknown.

But let’s call a spade a spade. It mostly boils down to a failure of leaders to lead––myself included now and then, if truth be told.

Decisions not to decide

In 15 years of consulting with all kinds of companies on all kinds of communication problems, I’ve seen many worthwhile projects grind to a halt because of executive indecision. In nearly every case, it was a downright shame.

A statement attributed to Teddy Roosevelt put it well: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” The former president evidently realized that not making a decision is actually a decision not to take action.

Keith Harcus, my dear departed father-in-law, put it better: “No guts, no glory!”

To him, the exclamation was a battle cry. Invariably, he cut loose with it after assessing a dubious euchre hand, and just before declaring—with a big, impish, overly confident smile—that he was going to “shoot it” anyway, much to the chagrin of his groaning partners. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

Uncannily, the cards fell Keith’s way more often than not. Which was his cue to flash an insufferably triumphant grin at the opposing players, and remind them, “No guts, no glory!”

Though Keith often referred to himself as “Humble Harcus,” he was nothing of the sort. All who knew him readily acknowledged that his other self-styled nickname—“King”—was most appropriate, given his long string of improbable victories, and the good-natured way in which he lorded it over the losers.

Answers in the cards

One leadership lesson here is that deciding to take a risk is no safer than not taking one. If you decide to do nothing, your competitors are apt to leave you in the dust.

Another lesson is that a good decision can produce either a good or bad result. Which is why effective leaders don’t beat themselves up when things don’t always turn out as planned. Keith’s bravado blew a lot of games. So what? Baseball’s top five all-time strikeout leaders—Reggie Jackson, Sammy Sosa, Jim Thome, Andres Galarraga and Jose Canseco—all rank among the top 50 all-time home run hitters.

The important thing is to do your due diligence: Define the problem, gather the facts, determine the required elements of the solution, identify alternative approaches (including inaction), weigh the pros and cons of each, choose the best. If you’ve done all that, it’s a good decision. Play the cards you were dealt.

A third leadership lesson is that you must make a decision without having all the facts. That’s life. You never know enough about what’s in your competitors’ hands. Without a little table talk, even your partner’s cards are a mystery. The best you can do is to watch for “tells” in the gestures and expressions of other players, assess the odds, lead with your strong suit.

A fourth lesson is to seek input from your teammates, but don’t let that lead to analysis paralysis. Taking into account the views of people you expect to help win the trick is a big step toward gaining their buy-in. But understand that it’s far safer for people to say no and criticize a bold decision, than it is for them to say yes and go out on a limb to support it. In the absence of consensus, it’s your call.

Good better than perfect

A fifth leadership lesson is that there’s simply no time to wait for a pat hand before making a decision. Life is short. And the game goes on whether or not you can summon the courage of your convictions. The best advice: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Do business executives who play cards take action quicker and ultimately achieve more than others? I’d love to see a study on that.
Meanwhile, important projects are awaiting your decision. Act like the King. Make a play, already. Remember, “No guts, no glory!”

Mark Holoweiko, APR
Mark Holoweiko—chairman of Stony Point Communications, Inc., a strategic public relations and marketing agency based in Haslett—and is nationally accredited by the Public Relations Society of America. He can be reached at 517-339-0123 or








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