“Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness.”

When you ask for permission, you send signals.

  1. You are planning to do something unusual, out of the ordinary, and against the status quo.
  2. There is a chance of failure.
  3. You want someone else’s reputation on the line with you.
  4. You are not confident in yourself.

As a result, managers tend to say no 50% of the time when you check for acceptance.

A President of a business once asked me to speak to his team at an annual meeting.

He was a rigid executive and sent me a template that I was to follow.

If you’ve ever seen me present, I’m not exactly one for templates.

One of my speeches better resembles a skit from Saturday Night Live than your typical, stodgy corporate groaner.

I knew that his team would enjoy my normal speech more than the box he wanted to shove me into.

So when he asked to see my presentation ahead of time, I sent him a watered-down version.

On the day of my speech, I unleashed my typical assortment of stories, jokes, anecdotes, and audience participation.

It was a hit.

After the meeting, I braced for a butt-chewing from this President.

“That was incredible! You had the whole room laughing. We’ll need to make this a regular part of our annual meeting.”

High risk, high reward

I knew that if I could win over his team, the worst I could expect was a scolding.

But the upside to me was tremendous.

I made a name for myself with his team and soon had similar opportunities with this President’s peers, who heard good things through the grapevine.

Had I not been confident in my ability as a speaker, I would have done it his way.

But that’s not me and I’m willing to accept the ramifications when I fail.

When you ask for my permission as your manager, I default to saying no because I want to see how serious you are.

If it is important enough, you will push back and make a stronger case.

But if you just do it, I likely won’t say anything.

Assume that you have authority until someone tells you otherwise.

Because when your ideas work, your manager can’t be mad.

And if your track record is strong enough, your manager learns to accept some losses.

I’ve written about how fortune favors the bold and this is no different.

Those who act without asking signal something else:

1. Their idea had a high probability of success.

2. They thought through the ramifications.

3. They are confident in their abilities.

Give me the confident person who acts over the tentative one who can’t move without clearance.

Don’t ask for permission or forgiveness.

Just act.


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