Wednesday, March 31, 2010

When Do the Best Leaders Pull the Plug?

I find the decision to pull the plug on a project to be one of the most interesting leadership challenges. There are generally two schools of thought.

1. Pull the plug early and often. Your organization has limited time and limited resources and lots of things it wants to accomplish. Initially invest your resources broadly across many projects and monitor each closely. Take resources away from those that stumble and invest them in those that show promise. Continue to reallocate resources until they're all being applied to the surest bets. You will demonstrate to the team you lead that results matter and that you are capable of making tough decisions. Sacred cows are there to be slaughtered. Advocates of this approach say it'll give you the most wins.

2. If the plug falls out of the socket, plug it back in and tape it to the wall. The biggest prizes are the hardest to accomplish, and there are going to be some early stumbles in anything that's worth doing. It's important for leaders to champion these causes and to set a vision for success that transcends what people believe are the organization's current capabilities. If the objective is an important one, double down on floundering projects by allocating more resources and getting personally invested in their success. You will demonstrate to the team that you have high expectations for performance, and that you support their development. Some windmills can actually be defeated. Advocates of this apporoach say it'll give you the biggest wins.

Which approach do you generally take? In our day-to-day worlds I know we're likely to use a mixture of both approaches, but which one do you consistently lean to? What does that say about the kind of leader you are?


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