Byron's Babbles

Informed Procrastination

Yet another phrase used by Joseph J. Ellis in Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation has caused me to ponder and think about the merits of what he called “enlightened procrastination.” He used this phrase to describe how our second President, John Adams, kept our infant country from going to war with France by not revealing a series of insults from the French government until time and diplomacy could resolve the issues. It worked for President Adams in this scenario and I am pondering about the merits of this as a leadership tool. I am going to guess that many of you are already saying, “You’re crazy!” Hear me out and feel free to comment.

If you have ever responded too quickly to an email, phone call, face to face, or now, Zoom interaction when you were upset and then regretted it this could be a place to use procrastination as a leadership tool. Take time to ponder and think. This will give you a chance to respond as opposed to reacting. I have people I work with regularly kid me about always waiting till the end of a meeting or conversation to ask a question or make a comment – just when they think it is about to end. This is because I’m a slow processor. I actually continue to work at honing this as a positive skill. It allows me to hear all sides and again, process.

Another thing is, we don’t have to solve every issue. Providing time for others to weigh in or solve themselves can be both healthy and many times bring about a better solution. I’m now thinking it should be called “informed procrastination.” Informed procrastination can help us, as leaders, make better decisions. Taking the time to ponder on answers to problems you are striving to find a solution for can help us better understand different perspectives and angles. To be clear, I am not suggesting we all become procrastinators. I am suggesting, however, that when we are informed, we can use it as a leadership tool.

Great Collaboration or Great Competition

I am reading the great book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis right now and he spoke of the “odd couple” of the revolution being Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Both were very different in their tactics and personalities, and were unlikely friends. Before Washington’s presidency, they collaborated to solve multiple political issues. Then, as Ellis put it, the “great collaboration” turned into the “great competition” because the two intimate friends soon found themselves running for the presidency against each other. Probably no relationship in this country’s history carries as much baggage as that of John Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.

This got me to thinking about the age old topic of how much competition is healthy. Pursuing individual goals alongside others can, at times, lead to counterproductive behaviors that can be harmful to both sides. This sense of competition can shift teammates (let’s consider Jefferson and Adams teammates of our democracy) focus from improving themselves or the vision of the organization to defeating a pseudo-opponent, which can lead to sabotaging behaviors. We saw these sabotaging behaviors in the case of Adams an Jefferson and I’ll bet you have seen this happen to others or yourself.

In a work setting, having read extensively about this topic, I believe in providing individualized performance statistics can help reduce competitiveness as well as its negative consequences. Competition at its best helps us to be better. At its worst, it can create unhealthy self-comparison or judgment. I am not advocating for doing away with competition. I am, however, advocating for us to not let collaborators becoming competitors stifle progress, both for the individual and the organization. Competition can actually change our world view. Never forget, everybody in an organization has something to say and undoubtedly has some value to contribute. Do we see the world as a place to grow and collaborate with others?