A job title doesn’t make the leader. In this edition of the Tough Things First podcast, Ray Zinn explores the idea of indecisive leadership and he is hardly indecisive on the matter.
Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo, your guest host for this edition of the Tough Things First podcast where I get a chance to talk with Ray Zinn, as noted, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley. And that’s for good reason. He has life experience, he has work experience, and obviously success at the helm of a company for more than three decades. It’s just amazing. So, hi Ray, it’s good to be back with you.
Ray Zinn: Thanks, Rob. Good to be with you this morning.
Rob Artigo: Well, Ray, we’ve all been around and worked for or worked with leaders who from time to time have shown an inability to make a solid decision when the stakes are highest, and obviously that can not bode well for a company. So what’s the nature of indecisive leadership in your mind?
Ray Zinn: I think it’s an oxymoron, because how can you be a leader if you’re indecisive? Leaders by definition are decisive. That’s why they’re leaders. So I don’t know that it’s possible to be an indecisive leader. And so it is kind of a funny oxymoron saying indecisive leadership. So I mean, they may be indecisive as an individual, but they’re not leading. Leading by definition is decisive. That’s what leading’s all about. Whether you’re a flock of geese flying south or whatever, there’s a leader. And it’s interesting in a flock of geese that are flying, you’ll notice they form a V. And the reason is because they’re drafting behind each other. And so as a team, that’s what the V does, is that V forms this ability for the geese to draft behind each other. So as a leader, as a front person is taking all the brunt because he’s providing the draft for the next one, which providing the draft for the next one and so forth, he then drops back to the rear and then the next person moves forward, that’s being decisive.
In other words, they know what their mission is. And then he moves into position and then he provides that leadership, that ability for everybody else to draft. So if the geese didn’t have that ability, they couldn’t make those long flights. So it’s just interesting, that’s a good example, I think, of just leadership is that, you allow people to draft behind you so that you provide the forward momentum for your company, that’s being decisive, forward momentum, not regressive or sideways, but you are providing that momentum for your company. That’s what a leader does, whether it’s in sports, whether it’s in teaching school or running a family, working in the government, whatever it is that you’re doing is part of your role. You can be a leader as a follower. In fact, the best leaders are good followers. Remember I said about the geese when they’re flying, they lead for a while, but then they follow also because they drop back because they can’t keep it up.
And so the analogy here is that a good leader is also a good follower because they do drop back and draft and get their energy back so they can go back and lead again. So as an individual, as a individual person, you can be a good leader if you’re decisive. So you don’t have to be the CEO of a company or a manager of a department. As an individual, you are leading your job, your responsibility. And so everyone that provides a positive influence in their organization, they have to be decisive. I don’t know how many of you are listening to this podcast, but think about all those individuals that you associate with who are indecisive and they’re not successful as individuals, you could tell by the way they act, the way they dress, the way they perform their daily functions. If they’re indecisive, then they don’t even know how to perform their job properly. So indecisive leaders is really an oxymoron.
Rob Artigo: And you make a really good point about that Ray, about a indecisive leader is actually an oxymoron because if you’re indecisive, you’re really not being a leader. But it brings to mind the fact that your title may be one of leadership, but that doesn’t mean you are being a leader.
Ray Zinn: Exactly.
Rob Artigo: Yeah. You know what I mean?
Ray Zinn: Exactly. So again, as I said, when we decided this topic, I said, “This is an oxymoron because you can’t… There’s no such a thing as an indecisive leader.” Take the geese again, if you’re leading, you’re the front goose as you would and you’re indecisive, you keep drought dropping down, around and back, they’re going to say, “Well, what the heck are you doing? What kind of a leader are you? Because you’re really not performing your role in helping us form this formation that allows us to fly these long distances.”
Rob Artigo: I’ll also offer this as an analogy because it makes me, when I think of drafting, I think of cycling and I spent a good chunk of my years bike racing and drafting becomes really important. You can be the person on the front, but you have to be aware of what’s happening to the people around you because you can’t be the goose or the point man in a cycling formation and drive it so hard that everybody else falls back, or they can’t keep up with you because you went up there and just burned up all your energy. You’ve got to be aware. And so that’s being decisive means making a decision that benefits the team.
Ray Zinn: Exactly.
Rob Artigo: And knowing that you’re like, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do and this is how I’m going to do it.” And then if for whatever reason we do it, we did a podcast on adaptability, I have to change a little bit if I’m just driving so hard that people, that the company’s failing, that I’m not really being a good leader. I’m not really being decisive.
Ray Zinn: Well, there’s the person that’s a rabbit in the race, somebody who’s out there way out in front burning up their energy, but they’re just forcing, trying to force you to run an improper race as you would. And whether it’s bicycling or racing or running or whatever, they’re trying to force you as a rabbit to try to go beyond what you know you should do. And so there are people like that who act as rabbits, who try to cause you to fail. And so you got to know that too, so you don’t be sucked into a rabbit. So any case, that’s a decent analogy, and hopefully if the lead goose is out there flying faster than the formation can fly, and he could do that for a while, but then he is going to burn out. He measures his energy and what he needs to do to keep that formation and his best efficiency.
Rob Artigo: And I think that in the business world, you’ve probably, I think you’ve mentioned on this podcast a few times, some examples of experience where you saw other CEOs, other leaders of companies doing that very thing, which is you throw themselves out there, burn themselves out at moving it at a pace that they… And demanding other people try to keep up. It doesn’t mean your company’s going to be successful just because you go in driving really hard at the head of the formation.
Ray Zinn: Right. So again, in conclusion, you cannot be an indecisive leader. You can be indecisive as an individual, but not as a leader. And so indecisive leaders are just oxymorons. So as an individual, whether you’re running an organization or whether you’re just working from home as an individual contributor, being decisive will help you succeed. That’s the key to this podcast is being decisive is what’s key to being successful.
Rob Artigo: Well, to the listeners, you can reach out to Ray Zinn with your questions at toughthingsfirst.com. He does read the messages, so please do take the time to write him. We can address those questions here on the podcast. Continue your education and the conversation with all of the podcasts, blogs, and links to information about Ray’s books. The Tough Things First book is essential. You need to pick that up. But also another great book is The Zen of Zinn, and there are three of those. There’s the Zen of Zinn one and two and three, and I hope you’ll pick them up wherever books are sold in Amazon, you can find them. So please do look. Great conversation, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Thanks again, Rob. Appreciate being with you today.