I was 27 when I was asked this question by my first boss, a very successful serial entrepreneur. He was a very impatient person, and didn’t like extended debate and discussion about big decisions.
He just made them- like the time a couple of years later when he determined what to bid on a billion dollar acquisition in about 20 minutes (no misprint, it was 20 minutes).
Now it may sound like he was too impulsive, or reckless, our just plain crazy, but he wasn’t.
He just had what’s Tom Peters called (in his great book “In Search of Excellence”) a “bias towards action“.
And a great ability to get the right data in front of him at the right time, which is one of the underlying “secrets” to being a great doer.
For example, on that billion dollar deal, he was able to decide in 20 minutes because he had developed a one-page analysis that cut to the core of the company’s potential, and therefore could point to a value that made sense to him. All he had to do was review it, ask a couple of questions, and BOOM!.
Of course, he had to trust that the data and analysis on that page was trustworthy and accurate, and that’s the second secret to being a great doer – hiring the right “numbers people”.
I was the person responsible for that page, and you can bet I spent a LOT of time working on it. My boss hired me because of my financial background, and my ability to do the proper analysis -traits that were vitally important to his decision-making process.
Then, there’s the third secret. Guts.
That boss had ‘em in spades – he was fearless. He trusted his business instincts, and had the courage to manifest that trust in quick decisions.
He was certainly a doer.
His bias towards action certainly passed along to me as I progressed through my career – I realized too that his “impatience” was his way of keeping business inertia at bay. He knew that standing still was a losing strategy, and didn’t want to be passed up by the competition.
I also figured out that too much complexity in an organization, and too much data, can hamper the doers – Tom Peters also noted this in “In Search of Excellence”. The successful companies were able to streamline to the point where they create
“action devises that simplify their systems and foster a restless organizational stance by clarifying which numbers really count or arbitrarily limiting the length of the goal list”.
They too were able to get to the “one pager”, and get it to the right people at the right time. And that’s the fourth secret: organizational and structural simplicity.
So the real doing could get done.
Peters so aptly summed up the bias toward action this way:
“Ready. Fire. Aim. Learn from your tries. That’s enough”
Which one will you be?