Stopping Three Feet From Gold

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief,

Anthony Guerra, Editor-in-Chief,

“We love that new place. The food is amazing,” said my friend, “but I’m a little concerned they’re going to change things.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, we ran into one of the waitresses who said the owner was frustrated that it was a little slow, and so she was thinking of converting it into a Mexican restaurant or something. They’d really be blowing a good thing because, I’m telling you, if they just stay the course the place is going to get busy. I’m going to tell everyone I know about it.”

The above story illustrates one of the classic failures of leadership — as Napoleon Hill famously said in, “Think and Grow Rich,” — stopping three feet from gold. In the book, Hill relates the story of a miner who digs and digs towards his dream of striking it rich, only to quit right before hitting pay dirt. Of course, we never know if the next shovel-full will bring up gold or just another helping of dirt, but leaders have a knack of staying the course (and keeping the team on track) until the prize is won. The timid, on the other hand, throw in the towel or change course just before the endeavor starts panning out.

In fact, this ability to stay the course was one of the most singular attributes of Ulysses S. Grant, eloquently described by his second in command, William Tecumseh Sherman.

“Sherman said he valued Grant’s quiet style of leadership above all. ‘The chief characteristic in your nature is the simple faith in success you have always manifested, which I can liken to nothing else than the faith a Christian has in his Savior. This faith gave you victory at Shiloh and Vicksburg. Also, when you have completed your best preparations, you go into battle without hesitation, as at Chattanooga — no doubts, no reserve — and I tell you it was this that made us act with confidence.’” Excerpt From: Brands, H.W. “The Man Who Saved the Union.”

Through study, we once again come up with the correct model of leadership as it relates to decision making. The exemplary leader gathers facts and opinions, considers, thinks, evaluates, and then, as soon as a clear path emerges — and not one second sooner or later — he moves forward without hesitation (which, as the above quote shows, is as contagious as uncertainty). Then, he stays the course through the inevitable first knocks that any plan receives when confronting realty.

To provide a more recent example, let’s look at some comments made by Edward Martinez, SVP and CIO at Miami Children’s Hospital, during our recent Webinar on Innovation. (See “Archived Events”)

“Above all else, take the risks — they have to be calculated, but you always hear, ‘Don’t be afraid to leverage your experience.’ I call it the gut check. There are a lot of times I won’t make a decision — even though I think I have all my facts — if it just doesn’t feel right. And usually, when you have enough years of experience, you get a sense if it just doesn’t feel right. And if it just doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right. But if it feels right, take the leap — it’s calculated already. You’ve done the assessment, you know it’s a good idea — just figure out a way to be creative and make it happen.

Take Martinez’ advice and move forward when things feel right, even if there’s significant risk involved. Then, follow the model of Grant by showing commitment to the path you’ve asked others to tread. Have the courage to truly see if things are making progress and, of course, adjust the course when and if necessary, but not whimsically, and not from a lack of courage.

By moving forward at the right time and leading with equanimity, you’ll go a long way to ensuring you never pull the plug three feet from gold.


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