Leadership Diary — Fast Decision != Fast Action

A series of blogs on learning and practicing leadership.

This is a follow-up learning from the previous blog post. The exciting thing about learning leadership is that it is like doing research: the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.

After I identified there are some productivity & mindset problems in the team, I started having performance discussions with members in the team. Now on a reflection, I am confident that I did a horrible job, but I learnt a lot out of it.

Two good ideas from books

I am reading a few more books recently around leadership and management recommended by my visionary boss: First, Break All the Rules, and What You Do is Who You Are. Also a post about OODA. Very interesting perspectives.

In First, Break All the Rules, there is a chapter talking about the differences among Skills, Knowledge and Talents. In quick summary, everyone has his/her own talents and it is something fundamentally unteachable. For example, a love for precision is a talent, not a skill nor knowledge that a manager can inject into you. Or not everyone can be a NBA player even though you work really hard, This was like aha moment when I read it, and I thought I got it: I need to tell my folks to move on if I don’t think have necessary talent.

In OODA loop, a cycle developed by US Air Force operation, it emphasizes making the observe -> orient -> decide -> act loop as fast as possible. The person who sees, thinks, and acts soonest wins in a gunfight. Ok, got it: if I have a conclusion, I should let people know as soon as possible and take immediate actions.

What is on book doesn’t seem to work in real life..?

These two learnings ended up hurting me really bad when I applied them bluntly. Some stories (adapted from real life scenarios):

In a 1: 1 conversation, I simply told folks that they don’t have the talent, it is better to find something else. The conversation turned out as bad as hell.

Similar for another person in team, I got to a conclusion that this person won’t work out in our team (by myself). So I went ahead talking to other teams’ managers if they are interesting in having this person into their teams. In a 1:1 with this report, I just told the employee I found a good next play for you. This conversation ended up really really bad, and I had to ask my boss for help to navigate it out. I spent at least 2 weeks pulling my hairs after the conversations to make things up.

What are the problems here?

  • Intention? I have very good intention to help, I want them to succeed.
  • Compassion? I have the compassion since I genuinely believe that, the best way to help this person succeed is to get him/her another opportunity in the company. I spent hours talking to other teams managers, explaining to them that this person is very smart and hardworking, but we don’t have good roles for them.
  • Candor? Oh yeah, can’t be more candid.


In a reflection, the problem I didn’t realize is:

It is generally true that the faster you make decision, and take action, the more effective you are. However, “action” itself is not the faster the better. Faster is not equivalent to more effective in people management.

When you have a conclusion towards an employee, you should take action as soon as possible: give feedback, work with that person to arrive at the same conclusion together. It is never just bang! Here is your prescription: find a new job.

After discussing more with a few peer managers, here are some tips I learnt:

  1. Build trust and relationship at the beginning of any employment, make sure your people know you are on their side, for bad news or good news, they know you are on their side. Communicate clearly on expectations.
  2. Active listening in 1:1, ask questions. Help your people understand the problem and come to conclusions together, take your time, give feedback, never be prescriptive on first few conversations, even if you are right.
  3. Flex the style with different people, see things through others’ eyes.