Why D- Can Be A Great Grade For Leaders

If there is one attribute guaranteed to slow you down, it’s perfectionism. I’ve been thinking a lot about adaptive leadership lately (like there’s another kind?) and recently reread a Harvard Business Review article from way back in 2010, “Four Lessons in Adaptive Leadership.” Sometimes I need to be reminded of the 70% rule because it’s a great antidote to perfectionism.

So 70% in school is like, what, C-? D+? D? Doesn’t matter, because it’s beside the point.

Apparently, the US Marine Corps leadership training course teaches Marines to get to a 70% certainty rate–no less, but NO MORE–before taking action. The Marines have found that the outcome improvement that comes beyond 70% certainty does not compensate for the time expended. Indeed, new circumstances arise during the time spent ruminating that may make the solution obsolete.

The UNMC preaches that Marines solve the current problem CURRENTLY. Thirty minutes from now, your solution to the current problem may be slightly better, but the problem may not be the problem anymore.

A client of mine who happens to be a Marine explains it like this: “As you get closer to the problem, the solution gets clearer. Action is critical.”

How does this Marine Corps process apply to business leadership? Well, think about how often we use military metaphors when talking about business. We attack problems, we go after the competition, we’re in the trenches for the long haul. When it is time to make a move, there often isn’t much time to figure out the absolute 100% best procedure. The smart leader will get to about 70% certainty and get those boots on the ground, adapting as they go.

Does this mean Ready-Fire-Aim? I don’t think so. But definitely less fiddling. Take your shot! Then re-aim if needed.

If you’d like to talk about how to make your leadership more adaptive, send me an e-mail at Scott@doubledareyou.us  and we can set up a time to talk.
photo credit: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 161103-D-PB383-028 via photopin (license)