in Improvement & Development

On Leadership and Dealing with Comfortable Inaction

John F. Kennedy said this (one of my favorite quotes) –

“There are risks and costs to a program of actions. But they are far less than the long range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.”

Comfortable inaction is the state where the immediate implication of not doing something is not visible, but in a longer run, it takes a toll. Comfortable inaction (specially by people at leadership positions) can be a real plague to the organization’s growth. Here are a few examples of how people use comfortable inaction at work:

  • They don’t disagree with your proposition, but do nothing about it.
  • They strongly agree with the proposition, but still do nothing about it.
  • They do things, but only in small discrete bits which never completes.
  • They predict the failure of the initiative before it starts, and then wait for it to fail.
  • They would pose something else as a reason for not doing what is needed now.
  • Sometimes, they won’t do it and won’t even bother to give any reasons.
  • They would work overtime to preserve the status quo.
  • They spend more time communicating problems, than solving them.
  • They spend a lot of time in planning, speculating the outcome and analyzing.
  • They don’t confront the real problem, but try to work the way around the problem.

You get the point. When things don’t get done, when real work doesn’t happen, when problems keep growing, organization pays a huge price. It could be a lost deal, increased cost due to delays or decreased productivity. But there is always a price to be paid for comfortable inaction.

Bottom line

Leaders (and professionals) are judged by results they produce – and hence they need to remain conscious about comfortable inaction in/around them. Equally crucial is to deal with it. Further, how comfortable inaction is dealt with tells a lot about leadership and culture of an organization.

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Here’s another quote that inspires us to act: “We have a ‘strategic’ plan. It’s called doing things.” — Herb Kelleher

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