The Leadership Practice to Drive Clarity, Decisiveness…and Insanity

Much of your success will be based on sustained effort over a long period of time.

You’re checking that box. Daily. Hourly.


But getting from here to there, aren’t there some accelerators?

If you think of short-cuts, it sounds like you’re trying to skip some steps. Maybe those steps are necessary.

But you’d like to speed up your development. You want to get an edge.

To avoid delays.

To make decisions faster.

To get more traction.

I’ve found a process that helps you accelerate results and also prevents you from making some colossal mistakes.

It will have a profound impact on your development and your success. And it won’t take months. Or weeks. Or even days.

It will take less than a minute. Mere seconds.

Photo by Dušan veverkolog on Unsplash

Diversity in backgrounds, skillsets, perspectives and behaviors can be a strength for an organization.

But it can also get fuzzy and downright funky when people are wired differently. How we deal with conflict. How fast we’re prepared to move. How much time we need to process input to make a decision. How much information we need. Our concern for what others think.

Some people have an approach of Ready, Aim…Aim…Aim…zzzzz. Sorry, I nodded off there.

Opportunities pass them by. Decisions get deferred and team members get frustrated.

Even the most level-headed leaders fall prey to the little voice in their heads that causes inaction or delay.

Let’s focus on the little voice in YOUR head that causes inaction or delay.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • You don’t offer your idea because it might sound stupid. You haven’t had a chance to think it through, so you let the others talk.
  • You disagree with the decision, but don’t want to get into an argument. So you remain silent
  • You’re not sure of the best alternative, and you’d prefer to wait. Maybe clarity will come to you later, but you don’t have it now. So nothing happens.
  • You want to come up with the perfect answer / plan / tactic. In the meantime, you find yourself in some version of analysis paralysis.

Mel Robbins wrote a book called the 5 Second Rule that remains a best seller four years after it was published. She delivered a TED Talk on the subject entitled “How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over,” and it has received more than 26 million views.

Benjamin Mee, the Matt Damon character in the movie We Bought a Zoo, told his kids about the positive results that can come from twenty seconds of insane courage. He was describing saying hello to a beautiful stranger, who would become his wife and their mother.

“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” — Benjamin Mee

20 seconds?

5 seconds?

Either way, the thought process is the same.

The longer we contemplate a potential action, the more time our minds can meddle in the process to try to keep us safe. To avoid risk. To consider the alternatives. To imagine possible consequences.

And to do nothing when all is said and done.

As a leader, you need to have a bias towards action.

We can’t walk around all our waking hours being brave or courageous. But we can in the moment.

In the moment we can exhibit courage. Courage to take risks. Courage to speak your mind. Courage to stand for what you believe.

Sometimes you know what we need to do. Based on your values. Based on what is the “right” thing to do.

“Knowing what must be done does away with fear.” Rosa Parks

But oftentimes, we don’t have a conviction about the right thing to do. Or the perfect thing to do.

So we wait for divine inspiration. We wait for the clouds to part and the lightning bolt answer. If only we could spot the burning bush.

It is isn’t always fear that paralyzes us. Sometimes it’s uncertainty. Sometimes it is simple inertia.

Mel Robbins offers a great system to conquer the prolonged hesitation: start a countdown.

Count “5–4–3–2–1.”

When you are counting out loud, you mind isn’t focused on worries or fears. Your mind is relying on the countdown patterns you’ve grown up with: the rocket launch or the New Year’s Eve celebration.

In both cases, after you count “1” you take action.

This practice quiets your mind, focuses you on counting — and then taking the action you need to take.

If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea. — Mel Robbins

Even the act of counting is an action step, which makes what you do next easier to handle.

  • Speaking up in a meeting when you’ve got something to add.
  • Getting rid of the employee who delivers strong results, but whose behavior is toxic in your culture.
  • Starting your day tackling your most important task, when it is difficult or complex.
  • Go for the close in the sale, when you’re uncomfortable.
  • Building trust with your team by being vulnerable.
  • Pursuing the endeavor that lights you up — but carries an uncertain outcome.

This practice gives you a bias towards action. It cultivates moments of bravery.

Once you make the decision or take the action, don’t move timidly. Move boldly. Act with confidence. Execute with tenacity.

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.”- Amelia Earhart

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

Some people are Ready…Fire. Fire! Fire!

Oops, they forgot the Aim part. Oh well.

Some people can read about 20 seconds of insane courage and think it is wasting 19 seconds of precious time.

You know who you are. You also think Mel Robbins adds four seconds too many.

If your desire to take action has gotten you in trouble in the past with relationships or results, be prepared to count to ten.


You need the additional seconds to reflect — even briefly — before you start speaking. Before you hit “send.” Before you spring to action.

This time I’ll split the difference between Benjamin and Mel. Let’s call it the ten second pause. Five seconds isn’t long enough.

Some of you need the entire ten seconds of reflection before you do something stupid. Something you’ll regret.

In those ten seconds you can ask yourself two questions:

1. Based on what I know right now, is this the best course of action I can take?

This suggests that you’re not acting completely out of emotion, or without a thought process behind your action. But with the information you have available, this is the best option.

If the answer is yes, then you ask:

2. Will I be able to shave tomorrow morning?

This is the quick gut check. Are you being consistent with your team and personal values? Is this the “right” thing to do?

If you answer “yes,” you’ll be able to look yourself in the mirror and be OK with what you are about to do.

I’m sorry this is a gender-specific reference, but hopefully you get the point.

These two questions don’t guarantee the right answer or the right results. But they give a ten second filter to help you avoid the obvious mistake. The potential disaster.

You have to ask — and answer — the two questions in less than ten seconds. You don’t have time for deliberation. If you get two yesses, go ahead. Jump.

If you get a “no,” it is time to re-evaluate before you get yourself in trouble.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

Successful leaders seek to have a consistent effort over time to generate positive results and achieve their goals.

Persistence. You’ve got that.

Effort. Yep, all day every day.

But you can accelerate your success — and your learning curve — by how you handle the little moments of truth in your day.

Self-awareness and intentionality are the twin pillars of strong leadership.

Humans are creatures of habit. Needless to say, not all our habits are productive.

When you are inclined to make the decision or take the action, you employ the method that works best for you.

If you tend to procrastinate and avoid taking action, start counting down from five. And when you get past one, take action. Confidently. Tenaciously.

If you tend to get out over your skis and it gets you into trouble, ask yourself the two questions. A ten second test to prevent a mistake.

You can increase your productivity in seconds. You can be more effective. You can be the kind of leader others want to follow.

It only takes seconds.

You don’t need Matrix magic.

And you don’t have to buy a zoo.

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