Managers should act rather than ask for permission

Act first and ask forgiveness later, says Debra Allcock Tyler

Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive, Directory of Social Change
Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive, Directory of Social Change

The best piece of advice I had as a young manager was that it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. This is quite subversive, really, especially in a world that insists on endless - usually pointless - risk assessments.

We operate in a climate where, even if 99 per cent of your trustees agree with your proposition, you have to stop all the plans to deal with the 1 per cent that don't. My advice? Don't ask for permission - just get on with it.

But what if it goes wrong? Well, if you've thought it through properly, it probably won't. But worrying about it going wrong won't help. When I was planning something risky, without permission (I hope my own trustees aren't reading this), Mr Tyler told me: "The things you worry about are never the things that actually happen - it's the things you can't see coming that bugger everything up. So there is no point in worrying."

We too often ask for permission because we're covering our backs, and then get really cross and frustrated when the answer is no. But if you believe something is a good idea and will work, give it a go. Don't wait for others to acquiesce. If you pull it off, you're a hero; if it doesn't work, well, you'll have to eat humble pie until you run out of custard. Trustees have to manage risks and you have to take them. If we're all too risk-aware, nothing will ever happen.

It won't hurt to punt your idea around a few people to test it for flaws before you put it into practice. But don't spend too much time trying to get everyone to agree. They won't. This is not about being irresponsible; it's about being courageous. That's part of what you are supposed to do as a manager. As Winston Churchill said when he was Prime Minister: "Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm."

- Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change and a trustee of MedicAlert

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