Resisting the Temptation to Run Organizational Yellow Lights

We live in a culture where patience is almost non-existent. One place it shows up the most is in stop and go traffic–especially during rush-hour. When our patience wears thin because we’re cut-off in traffic, stuck behind granny while she takes a leisurely “Sunday drive,” or nearly side-swiped by the guy who is  texting or the lady putting on make-up, it’s really easy to take short-cuts. One of those short-cuts is yellow lights.

You know the drill! The lights green. There are 15 cars in front of you. You’re wheels are nearly on top of the guy’s bumper in front of you. Only six cars left to go and suddenly the light turns yellow. So what do you do? Gripping the the steering wheel with white knuckles, as the cars on your left and right slow down, you barrel through the “yellowish redish” light.

As you cross the line, you feel a brief moment of victory. “Yes! I made it!” And sometimes–perhaps many times–you make it without any consequences. But sometimes it’s a different story. Flashing red lights in your rear view mirror, or worse, you get T-boned in a busy intersection. Oh the temptation, and the consequences, of yellow lights.

I’ve discovered a similar yellow light exists on an organizational level. Here’s how it looks. You’re launching a new initiative or creating a solution to a very real problem. You’ve planned for weeks, maybe even months or years. And just before your launch goes live, there it is on the horizon…a bright yellow light. A problem! A snag! An annoying “missed” detail!

It’s in these narrow windows of organizational yellow lights, that leaders face  a temptation: “Do I speed up, ignore the yellow light, and go live with my new solution? After all, I’ve worked so hard to get this far…I can’t stop now!”  This is a huge temptation, especially after putting considerable time, energy, and resources into solving a problem. But that’s when you need to be the most careful. When you see a yellow light, slow down, define the new reality, and determine if there’s an alternative route, a way to improve your solution, or a better initiative?”

This may not sound like a big deal. After all, there’s no problem-free solution and you’ll never be 100% certain when you make changes. As Andy Stanley says, a leader can afford to be uncertain, but he can’t afford to be unclear. If you wait for perfection, you won’t ever do anything.

But consider this: Every ignored organizational yellow light turns red.  Every time.  And when the yellow light turns red, it usually stops you dead in your tracks. You just might be t-boned by an unforeseen issue…something small from a distance, but something that becomes much bigger just as you run the yellow light.

Every ignored organizational yellow light turns red. Every time. Click To Tweet

So when you’re leading, work hard to turn yellow lights green. No, you can’t turn yellow lights green in your daily commute to the office, but you can turn yellow lights green in organizations if you accurately diagnose the issue, deal with its root cause, and develop a refined solution. And, if after proper diagnosis, you discover that you can’t turn the yellow light green, then there’s probably a better solution out there to your problem. Keep searching!

Question: How have you dealt with organizational yellow lights?