A Bias for Action
Heike Bruch Sumantra Ghoshal
Harvard Business School Press, 2004 Often managers spot a chance to do something valuable for their company, but for some reason, they cannot get started. Even if they begin the project, they give up when they see the first big hurdle. The inability to take purposeful action seems to be pervasive across companies. Managers tend to ignore or postpone dealing with crucial issues which require reflection, systematic planning, creative thinking, and above all, time. Instead, most managers are happy dealing with operational activities that require more immediate attention. Daily routines, superficial behaviors, poorly prioritized or unfocused tasks make unproductive busyness the most critical behavioral problem in large companies. This fascinating book is about how to promote purposeful action in organizations. This book, the least by Sumantra Ghoshal, before his untimely death is a must read for all middle level and senior managers. Energy & Focus People who exhibit purposeful action possess two critical traits: energy and focus. Energy implies a high level of personal involvement and effort. Purposeful action, is self-generated, engaged, and self-driven behavior. Purposeful action also requires focus. It requires discipline to resist distraction, overcome problems, and persist in the face of unanticipated setbacks. In other words, purposeful action is different from impulsive behavior. It involves thought, analysis, and planning. The authors identify four kinds of managerial behavior, according to the levels of energy and focus that managers display. ? The Frenzied: They are highly energetic but very unfocused and appear to others ? as frenzied, desperate, and hasty. ? The Procrastinators: They postpone the work that really matters to the ? organization because they lack both energy and focus. They often feel insecure and fear failure. ? The Detached: They are disengaged or detached from their work altogether. They ? are focused but lack energy and often seem aloof, tense, and apathetic. ? The Purposeful: They get the job done. They are highly focused and energetic ? and come across as reflective and calm, amidst chaos. Organizations must be particularly wary of the frenzied managers who are busy people, often highly motivated and well intentioned. They are enthusiastic about their work and, identify strongly with their jobs. But because of lack of reflection and focus, they end up achieving little.
2 Continual, unreflective activity is costly for the individual. Because these managers identify so strongly with their jobs, they tend to get frustrated or hurt more easily when confronted with setbacks, criticism, or mediocre performance. Frenzied managers also act in extremely shortsighted ways. As they do not take time to reflect, they typically deal with immediate problems while neglecting long-term issues. They underestimate the time needed to implement a strategy. They begin activities without analyzing the risks and long-term implications. Motivation and Willpower The authors draw an important distinction between motivation and will power. Motivation might suffice in helping managers sustain organizational routines. But the more important tasks are usually complex and require creativity and innovation. When dealing with ambitious goals, high uncertainty and extreme opposition, managers have to rely on a different force, the power of their will. Willpower goes beyond motivation. It enables managers to execute disciplined action, even when they are disinclined to do something, uninspired by the work, or tempted by other opportunities. Willpower gives managers an insatiable need to produce results. They can overcome barriers, deal with setbacks, and persevere to the end. Willful managers resolve to achieve their intention, no matter what. Every manager is capable of engaging willpower. Willpower is neither limited to a certain set of personality traits, nor to a person’s...
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