Don’t Hesitate, Initiate

Signpost showing distance to Damascus.

Recently media reports, including The Mideast Update, have covered the claims that Israel struck some type of military target in Syria in order to prevent the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. Israel apparently acted decisively on Syria. Such initiative is essential for current leaders and those who aspire to become such. You may have heard that haste makes waste, the tortoise triumphs over the hare and so on. In truth, those proverbs are often completely wrong.

The problem is that the wisdom in the phrase “timing is everything” is too commonly interpreted to demand caution and waiting. “Slow and steady” is great advice for a marathon, but terrible advice for the frequent times that quick decisiveness is essential. Timing is everything—sometimes the time is right now.

Israel is a perfect example of realizing that not every decision permits waiting. Twice now with Syria, Israel has reportedly acted when no one else would. Back in 2007, Israel was faced with a serious threat: Syria was developing a covert nuclear program that doubtless aimed to develop nuclear weapons. No one else would take action at the speed that the situation demanded, and so Israel took a substantial risk and blasted the Syrian facility into oblivion.

Again, just recently, Israeli aircraft reportedly acted on a new Syrian threat. Whether it was chemical weapons or anti-aircraft missiles, the point is that it could be a game-changer in the hands of Hezbollah terrorists. Realizing that action could not be postponed, Israel was proactive.

The actions were risky, sure. But for leaders—whether they are governments, CEOs or fathers—delay can make things more difficult, or even dangerous. When one knows what one must do, one must act quickly more often than not.

In Jewish tradition, there is a poignant story of what happens when leaders don’t take initiative. When collecting items for the construction of the Tabernacle, the Bible details a long list of goods brought by the people of Israel. Oddly enough, some of the most expensive items—sizable gemstones—are listed towards the end.

Not only where these of notable value, but they were brought by the elders of the community. So why list them almost last? describes a tradition that the leaders waited to see what would be left over from the gifts of the people. Their intentions were noble. That the elders would have brought more is evidenced by their bringing such expensive stones and their later gifts for the dedication ceremony for the altar.

But here, they waited. And in the end, most likely to their dismay, the people brought almost everything that was needed. The leaders had but one gift to give, when they had planned to do so much more. They hesitated, and according to the Jewish account, they were subtly critiqued for this lack of initiative.

The command of G-d was clear: bring the goods for the tabernacle. The abilities of the leaders were obvious: They had much to give. So the action should have been hasty: do what needs to be done.

Now, let me be clear in stating that some decisions need time. Sometimes the required action is unclear and more research or study needs to be done. Sometimes the chance for perfect timing is too good, or even necessary, and so a healthy delay is wise. Sometimes haste really does make waste.

But too often, the lack of initiative causes more problems than it prevents. How many men tell their wives “I was going to do” something that in the end they could not do? How many businesses fail because no one thought it was their place to act? How many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities are missed because they weren’t taken?

Of course, if you’re not a leader, your initiative must be tempered by the structure of authority. Acting without telling your boss is a great way to get fired, not promoted.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t take initiative, or shouldn’t.

Joseph is an excellent Biblical example of just such a response. He was a puny prison-slave brought before Pharaoh to interpret the powerful man’s dreams. He knew what needed to be done. He had leadership skills to do it. But his wisdom made him temper his initiative with respect.

Rather than tell Pharaoh that he could save Egypt from famine, Joseph presented Pharaoh with a plan that could do that. It was risky in that Joseph might lose credit for the plan. But it was brilliant in that he did not have the authority or the right to act without Pharaoh’s approval. So he made his presentation, and without even suggesting himself for the role of food collector, let Pharaoh have the privilege of leading.

As a result, Pharaoh wisely saw that Joseph was the best and only choice for such a role and not only named Joseph to be the food-collecting leader, but named him second-in-command.

So are you a leader? Then act like it by acting quickly and with initiative. Do you want to be a good subordinate? Then present your ideas to your superiors quickly with respect and humility. The truth is that initiative is more often good than bad; the key is just presenting it in the right way depending on one’s position in life.

So don’t hesitate, don’t wait and don’t be late—initiate!

(By Joshua Spurlock,, February 17, 2013)