Hope Is Not a Strategy

Why kicking the can down the road is rarely the right move

I killed a bird today. It was a baby bird. Squawking at us beneath a small tree in our backyard, this helpless being had enough sense to be afraid of us, but clearly hurt beyond help. My 8-year old looked to me for what we should do. I knew. But I didn’t say it aloud.

Later I would take an ax to it and sever its head from its body while our daughter was at her swim meet.

It was most definitely the right thing to do.

But I resisted the resolution to this situation. For hours.

I totally regret those 240 minutes of in-action where I hoped I’d get off easier by not having to do the thing that I so didn’t want to do in the first place.

Why am I telling you this?

So often what we call “hope” clouds the reality of the situation. The truth of the matter is we know what we should do to remedy the situation. Instead, we delay and hope and delay some more. We do this in the hopes it’ll change or that perhaps it’s not as bad as we think.

We just don’t want to deal with the unpleasantness of the act itself, or the consequences that come into play in the wake of the swift action.

Like when you have an employee who’s a star performer and a jerk.

It’s really just kicking the can down the road, a term I first heard from Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures.

I’ve been using this term a lot lately — “don’t kick the can down the road”. There is always a desire to push the hard decisions out. I find myself urging entrepreneurs and CEOs to make that hard call today and take the poison and move on. It’s hard for leaders to make this choice largely because of fear of the other things that will come along with that hard decision.

Like the bird needlessly suffering while I took hours to contemplate mustering the courage to put it out of its misery, hoping the job was done for me hours later.

Hope is good. In fact, we all might do well to embrace it more. But when that’s your strategy, you’re exposed. Think: business negotiations. Think: closing a big deal. Think: an employee who isn’t working out, but you invest another 60 days hoping they improve and get with the program so you don’t have to fire them.

Leadership means 1) Operating from a place of hope and optimism for the future and 2) Like a machete, engaging in and inspiring planned action and coordinated effort to make the impossible possible.

What you resist, persists.

I let the discomfort of the action that needed to take place get in the way of me actually doing the something that was the right thing to do, shrouded in the white puffy clouds of “hope”.

I kicked the can down the road.

Yet you always come face to face with that can. Only this time, it’ll cost you more because of interest.

Where are you kicking the can down the road?

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