Saturday, February 19, 2011

working with the "slows"

I recently read a section of a book on Civil War Leaders that dealt with the relationship between President Lincoln and General George McClellan. The relationship was never very good (though President Lincoln tried his hardest) with General McClellan consistently demanding more than he needed and waiting too long to attack General Lee's forces.There is a point in the conflict in which President Lincoln referred to General McClellan as having the "slows." As much as Lincoln urged him much as he demanded him to move much as he asked others to push McClellan, nothing much ever happened and the Army of the Potomac lost multiple opportunities to win decisive battles that might have shortened the war.

Who do you know - or who do you work with (or for) that seems to have the "slows?" What seems to characterize this person? How does this person's behavior and actions keep the institution form moving forward? And what happens when you as a leader tend to get the "slows?"

The behavior is often characterized by someone not being able to act in a timely manner. When leaders get the "slows" the whole organization begins to grind to a halt. Other people wonder what is happening...other people begin to get blamed for opportunities not taken...other people are scrambling to gather data the leader wants in order to make his or her decision...other people get blamed for budget issues...other people are asked to perform above their call of duty...other people (well, you get the idea).

McClellan was a master "blamer" - it was never his fault, but always someone else's problem when he was not able to take the initiative. He blamed it on his generals...he blamed it on the weather...he blamed it on his superiors...he blamed it on his numbers (or lack thereof)...he blamed it on lack of information. What he never did was blame it on himself. His "slowness" brought the Army of the Potomac to a grinding halt - and eventually led to his own demise. Following the battle at Antietam, Lincoln found the right time and place to remove General McClellan and replace him with General Burnside (who ended up in a similar situation within a few months).

How can we make sure the "slows" do not happen to us? Here are a few thoughts:
  • determine what it is that needs to be done - and then set a timeline in which to make it happen
  • find a group of people who will hold you accountable to your decision making process
  • don't be a data freak...though this might be a strength of yours, do not let it become your weakness
  • know your data - gather what you need, be sure it is as accurate as it can be, and then move forward
  • understand what the organization needs to move ahead - and empower others to make those decisions
  • be willing to say "I might be wrong" and then move forward
  • always have your list of what's next - be thinking about and working toward the next big thing
  • don't be afraid - the fear of failure can keep you from acting
  • don't become arrogant - your pride can easily create a fear of failure
  • surround yourself with great people - and work with them to make timely decisions
  • do regular inventories of what you have accomplished in the past 90, 180, 360 days

If you have the "slows," determine to do something about them...if those around you have the "slows," discuss with them their inability to act and help them correct the issue...if those to whom you report have the "slows," find ways to encourage them to give you (or others) permission to act...if your organization has the "slows," set up a way for yourself and your division to make things happen. Don't be accused of having the "slows"'s a terrible disease that can hurt you, your career, and your organization.


LearnerJim said...

Don, the slows you describe in McClellan sound like low challenge, high thought, High esteem need. I like your prescriptive. It would be interesting to identify how to help people with differing perspectives and needs to do the great things you suggest.

Carrie said...

Motivational...I'm working through my list right now!

Don Christian said...

welcome back Carrie - I have missed you comments...