Asking for Permission or Forgiveness

by The Red Recruiter on July 15, 2010

On one hand, as a society, we put an incredible amount of value on innovation, “leading the way,” the “rebel without a cause” decisiveness displayed by a variety of prominent cultural icons…

On the other, we hold co-workers and leaders accountable for being “team players’ and for gaining consensus before acting. We single out people who just “go for it” as individualists who don’t take the group’s needs into consideration.

So, what’s the right answer? Is there?

Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of Falling

Asking for Permission

There is definitely value in gaining buy-in from your team and other influential characters in your work life. For starters, it’s much more likely that you will have people on board with your ideas before ever launching. This may equate to added help and encouragement as you move forward with your plans… perhaps a helping hand or two when implementation proves more difficult than expected.

That said, and despite our society’s emphasis on being a team player; it often seems that people use asking for permission as a crutch.

Yes, I know we would all like to believe that team players are in it for the team… that they live and breath for the company and, in their off time, dream about how to make work a better place for everyone. But, the truth is, there are very few altruistic beings in this world. Most everyone has a “what’s in it for me?” mindset that guides their decision making. Further, safety in consensus breeds a protective mindset, which in turn gives way to a protective stance in work behavior.

Getting buy-in from others is a pretty convenient way of covering your a$$ should your idea end up becoming a professional fail whale.

Asking for Forgiveness

Just go for it! What’s the worst that can happen? No guts, no glory! Right?

As I’ve asked around on this topic, I’ve found that perceptions of this question are highly dependent on the audience. Entrepreneurs, innovators and creatives tend to ask for forgiveness. They are often times motivated by their inner-desires to take risks and make change. To ask for permission is to trust their instincts and creative spirits in the hands of people who may not share the same amount of passion or vision for the topic.

With that in mind, it’s also important to point out that innovators are often times action-oriented. They have lost the inner-desire to always be right – to never make mistakes. Therefore, it’s much more tolerable for them to step off the cliff every now and again. They have internalized the realization that they will indeed become stronger from their mistakes (so long as it doesn’t kill them, of course).

What Do You Have To Lose?

The repercussions for just “going for it” are usually greater in our minds than in reality. We have an uncanny ability to build up these other-worldly disaster scenarios that, often times, keep us from taking action… taking risks.

The truth is, in most cases, you will be just fine. You may have to readjust if your action proves to be a mistake… but, that doesn’t mean that the sky is going to fall down and that you are condemned to spend the rest of your years on this earth as a failure. Nope! You get up, dust yourself off and move

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on to the next thing – this time armed with new knowledge from your past experience.

Over the past few years, I’ve noticed an undertone that companies are starting to focus more on hiring people who have made mistakes. People who make major change tend to screw up – it’s the nature of the beast and a part of what will make a person more successful in the future.

Tell me how many times you’ve screwed up and I’ll tell you how successful you’ll be! πŸ˜‰

P.S. When you are faced with a hard decision, try this. Imagine that you are at the end (laying on your deathbed). At that moment, are you wishing that you would have gone for it or chosen to play it safe? Do you wish that you would have spoken your mind? Do you wish that you would have asked for permission or forgiveness? The

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answer you come to from this perspective should help guide your decisions and, better yet, force you to live based on your values.

  • Jonlongsr

    I read somewhere that the average self made millionaire has been bankrupt or close to bankruptcy 3.2 times. It is the mentality of accepting risk which also provides the potential of the greatest rewards. I guess that is why the CEOs make the big bucks. Interesting post.

  • Meghan M. Biro

    Interesting viewpoint Michael! I can appreciate this line of thought. When job seekers display a sense of authenticity + insight it certainly shines through in the interview process. Change is indeed inevitable – it can even be fun? Nice to see…Thank you for sharing.

  • working girl

    This is a terrific post. Well-functioning teams can be incredibly positive but focusing too much on consensus tends to block any sort of initiative. And viewing people who show initiative as non-team players is a dangerous mindset.

  • theredrecruiter

    That seems very true! πŸ˜‰

  • theredrecruiter

    The only constant is change… thanks for stopping by πŸ˜‰

  • theredrecruiter

    It is indeed a tricky balance. Reminds me of some things I've read recently on the creative process. Perhaps I'll write about it soon. Thanks for the comment.

  • Lori Goldsmith

    Michael, Great post. Very true.
    Several years ago when I was taking my former employer through a merger, I put a lot of pressure on the executive team to be accessible. It went over like a ton of lead balloons. I did not stop there. I insisted on an international newsletter to keep employees informed, without relaying confidential information, of course. That was received with a resounding β€œNO!” What part of β€œNO!” don’t I understand? I have never understood β€œNO!” when I strongly believe it is the RIGHT thing to do. Of course I was certain I would be fired for insubordination when the first newsletter hit the emails. I was willing to accept that loss for doing the right thing for the employees, for the entire team. It worked out so well, that when the second M&A came about, there was no question.

  • theredrecruiter

    Great story Lori! Sometimes you just have to go for it πŸ˜‰

  • Davis

    Great post. A little humility goes a long way.


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