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Lessons from Libya: When to Do Nothing

Sometimes, your best choice of action is to do nothing, and sometimes that is not an easy decision. I was reminded of this during the world’s recent challenge to decide how to deal with Gadhafi in Libya.

Julie Straw in The 4-Dimensional Manager discusses when doing nothing is your best choice. Her screening criteria go like this:

  • Is this situation important to me?
  • Is it possible to change this situation?
  • If it is possible to change this situation, are the potential rewards worth the effort (and I would add, the risk)?

The situation in Libya pushes us to Julie’s third point. Human rights abuses and military action against civilian populations matter to most of us, and between the U.S. and NATO, there is certainly enough power to intervene and remove the regime. However, the risks of opening a third war in the Muslim world are huge, and in the face of war-weary public sentiment, are substantial and caused much hand wringing and head scratching among the world’s policy makers before the UN vote for a no-fly zone.

As a manager, I have often chosen inaction because I was maxed out with higher priorities – i.e., the situation might have been bad but not as important as other priorities, and choices had to be made. My belief system says that change is never impossible, but often the risks or costs of creating that change outweigh potential benefits.

I’m not judging either action or inaction against Gadhafi, but rather using this to make a point. Choices to act must always be framed against values, interests, and the broader context, including opportunity costs. Those who respond to crises impulsively will soon overreach.

When you are wired towards action, as most successful leaders are, it is difficult to do nothing, especially when doing nothing means allowing a bad situation to continue. Still, that is sometimes the best option.

When it is, however, strong leaders don’t whine. They turn lemons into lemonade by focusing on the upside benefit of not being distracted from what you do choose to act on, rather than the downside of allowing a bad situation to continue.

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2 Responses to “Lessons from Libya: When to Do Nothing”

  1. Said says:

    I think that Jesus and his early followers gave an exmalpe of how it is better to be killed than to kill. You say sometimes people give us no choice but I think we have been given a choice by God even when people try to take that choice.With a mind set of kill to save some we only perpetuate the idea that the death of an enemy is the safety of all. When that mind set is in anyone our only hope is that they have pure hearts and intentions.I come from an ancestry that believes in peace. I think that Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent resistance is applicable around the world in how to handle conflict. Ghandi of corse is a great exmalpe as well. There are many stories to tell of when non-violence has triumphed over military force. I realize this is a conversation that will go on for years and there really is no easy answer to it, surely minds don’t get changed over blog comments and I doubt I could win in an argument against a lawyer, but non-violence is something I stand for very strongly so I had to speak my piece. The way you spoke on it was good though, a spirit of searching for truth and justice, I enjoy the song.Lets continue that prayer of Gods justice for Libya and listen for Gods call of what he would like us to do.thank youBrett

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