Is It Better to Ask Forgiveness or Permission?

Grace Hopper was born in 1906, way ahead of her time. She was not only one of the first women to make junior admiral rank in the US Navy but also worked on the military’s first computer prototype after obtaining a Ph.D. from Yale. Her driven and confident attitude got her to push through obstacles in an all-male field during an era this type of progress was unheard of. She rose up the military ranks while most females stayed home to care for their families. A relentless belief in herself did not leave much room to entertain naysayers. She proved to be a powerful force in a man’s world setting herself on a path to success.

Ms. Hopper’s quote “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission” was brought to my attention in recent conversation. I believe her words provide insight into her conviction to make a difference.

Women have long been conditioned to a world of restrictions. We are expected to be mindful of the way we carry ourselves. The manner in which you speak, dress, act and behave is closely observed looking for faults to form judgments. The rules apply in all aspects of life including business. If we are too much of a go-getter we’re perceived as aggressive but if the behavior is tame it can lead to situations that invite others to run us over. One of the countless dilemmas faced? How to create greatness in an environment of resistance?

The answer is complex and varies among women in positions of authority.  As a woman, barreling through the opposition in business will not go over well. Allies are necessary to help plan the most efficient strategies.  Working together produces better results but you need a certain level of unity. Having everyone’s goals aligned improves chances for success. However, what do you do when the challenges endanger the end-goal? Do you push back hard with disregard showing force or stand down?

I believe it is a combination of both. The best resolution is finding balance. Seek the Yin and Yang to manage a difficult situation. Gently push boundaries towards the greater good, carefully assessing each step as you go. This blueprint can be complicated because as you iron out kinks you also test limits. It may mean an attempt at unconventional solutions that don’t necessarily meet consensus. It can have you apologizing for overstepping the boundaries, mentioned earlier. When you step out of the mainstream way of doing things there are risks.

For centuries, women have maintained their place in society. Ruffling other people’s feathers is a consequence of choosing what is best over what is popular. Sometimes, you are left with no other choice but to put that tail between your legs to say “I’m sorry.” The apologies can happen in our business or personal lives. It remains more satisfying than asking for permission to do what you believe is right or in the best interest of the cause.

Pioneers never have it easy. Blazing a trail takes confidence, courage, and conviction with a touch of modesty. So, when deciding on permission or forgiveness? Measure yourself. Think before you act and most importantly, put yourself in other people’s shoes prior to taking a step that could have irreparable damage. Repetitive disregard for the rules is a blatant act of rebellion that will not deliver success. Make sure you find a suitable blend of subtlety along with assertiveness. This mixture can prove helpful, likely, providing an improved outcome.

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