Walk the Line Between ‘Make’ and ‘Let’

24th Oct 2019

For years, Nike’s tagline has been ‘Just Do It.’ It encourages us to act, not wait. The promise is that we’ll be better off having acted decisively rather than having waited tentatively.

Nike’s message is a good one. If you want to make anything happen, you’ve got to act. You’ve got to have agency. I’ve definitely capitalised on that message myself – I even offer a programme called Change Makers!

And yet…

As I’ve got older, and perhaps a little wiser, I’ve noticed the benefits of not acting. Or, more specifically, not trying to make things happen beyond a certain point. In other words, don’t force it.

Last week, I finished working with a group of senior leaders who’d participated on my Accelerate: Strategic leadership programme. It was the last day of the nine-month programme, and they were reflecting on how they’d changed. As each person shared, I noticed a theme: they were more chilled, more relaxed. Yes, they still had to deal with the same wicked, gnarly problems. But they were less hooked into reacting to the issues and kicking into fire-fighting mode. They could take more deliberate action, and then step back, consciously observe, and allow things to unfold, while still being present and onto it.

That sounds like a good way to operate, right?

I reckon there’s a line we want to walk, between making stuff happen and letting stuff happen.

Let’s explore those two ideas:

Make: When you act, the world moves. The Accelerate: Strategic programme was born from me decision to fly to Austin, Texas, to co-design a radically new form of leadership development with my colleague, Nick Petrie. Nothing was guaranteed. Yet, one organisation back in Wellington heard what we were up to, and called me while I was in Austin, asking us to consider working with them as the pilot client. If you want to catch waves, you’ve first got to put in the strokes. 

Let: There’s a time for putting in the effort, and there’s a time for letting other forces do their thing. I reckon I run my best workshops when I prepare intensively, show up in the right mindset, and then work with what comes up in the room. Usually that means deviating from the script. I aim to let the conversations that need to happen, happen. Paddle hard, then let the wave take you where it’s going.

Walking the line between Make and Let is a fine balance. The trick is not to go too far either way. Here’s what happens if you do:

Force: Don’t force it. If you’ve ever chased something you really, really want (a job, a girl, a guy, a dream) you’ll know the frustration that comes with trying to control the outcome. Wise leaders know that overreliance on a command-and-control approach has a limited impact. Forcing usually gets you push back. Instead, practice high intention, low attachment, and tap into the bigger forces at play. You can’t paddle against a rip.

Watch: Life is not a spectator sport. It starts with your identity: are you a spectator, or a player? For example, research on the relationship between identity and wellbeing suggests that people who see themselves as committed to their wellbeing will do activities that keep them well. And people who don’t, won’t. Decide what game you’re in, and play it. If you’re wondering why you’re not getting any good waves, it’s because you’re sitting on the beach 🙂

I reckon getting the balance right between Make and Let is one of the core skills of effective leadership. It’s never easy, yet a crucial thing to master. How do you keep your balance?

For more like this, check out:

Work With The Patterns

Find The Sweet Spot

Are You Trying Too Hard?

The Myth of Balance


Photo Credit: Shiva Smyth, Pexels


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