Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The power of "decisiveness," lessons from a civil war general!

I am a unabashed history buff and always have a non-fiction book or two going at all times.  While an econ major (religion minor) in undergrad, I have always been fascinated by the stories and lessons of history.  In numerous blog essays, and in many off-site learning experiences, I have used historic readings to bring business/leadership lessons to life.  Notable examples include writings of Cicero, Plutarch, Ghandi, and of course the writings and speeches of Dr. Matin Luther King jr.

Recently I have really enjoyed the historic writings of Ron Chernow, a master historic storyteller!  Starting with his book on Washington, then moving to his work on Alexander Hamilton ( the inspiration of the hit broadway show), I am now deep into his work on former civil war general and president  Ulysses S. Grant.  While I had certainly expected intriguing stories of Grant's life, his military service and his presidency, I had not expected to be inspired by his words and their application to business challenges in 2018!

In 1864 after the fall of Vicksburg, General Grant assumed command of all union forces and began the campaign that would lead the end of the civil war in 1865.  In a meeting with an officer of the quartermaster corp, Grant made a quick decision regarding supplies needed for his soldiers.  The quartermaster officer questioned whether Grant was "certain" about his decision.  His response deeply struck home to me:

""No I am not" Grant shot back, "but in war anything is better than indecision.  We must decide.  If I am wrong we shall soon find out, and can do the other thing.  But not to decide wastes both time and money and may ruin everything.""

This quote from 1864 really hits home to me here in 2018.  With so many of my clients today, indecision is a real killer, hurting short term business results and disadvantaging companies competitively in the marketplace over time.  As I read this quote, a few "themes" stood out to me as key lessons/concepts that I will work to apply in my current consulting practice, and I literally used one of these ideas in a client discussion yesterday!

Key lessons/themes:

 "Take action now, action is power," clearly an underlying message from U.S. Grant and one that is so broadly relevant.  Too much time is spent "speculating" on all the "what if's" of a situation and while I fashion myself a keen planner, the need to take action in the marketplace and have the consumer/client/customer DECIDE is what its all about.  All the pre-planning and analysis in the world will not replace the power and truth of the marketplace!!

"Leadership humility vs hubris" is so evident in this quote and so missing in todays business and political leadership landscape.  Grant is very open that he might wrong in his decision and doesn't try to hide or run from that potential at all!  Showing candor and humility, he suggests that if he is wrong they will quickly find out and they can change course.  Being wrong is not his concern, being indecisive and ineffective ultimately is!!

" Inactivity has huge negative consequences" comes through in the quote above.  General Grant's predecessors as leaders of the Union armies were plagued by inaction and indecision.  Those attributes lead to some of the largest military setbacks that the union faced, (the first and second battles of Bull Run along with McClellan's Peninsula campaign are textbook examples) and lead to senseless slaughter and an extension of a horrific war.

As you dive into the business and leadership challenges that you face everyday, think back on General Grant and his passion for decisiveness.  Think about a few of the key themes from his short quote above and look for ways to take action powerfully and quickly (decisively) in your work today!!

Friday, June 8, 2018

50K, 179, & 14+

The core of this essay is a big thank you and a note of appreciation from a hesitant author!  earlier this month, this blog hit a milestone of 50,000 page views and I am humbled and appreciative of your support!  These page views spanned over 179 essays and originated from more that 14 countries, thus the key metrics in the headline!  Nine years ago, I was asked/nudged/cajoled to post a "story or two" from some of the folks I used to work with at Coke, and after months of dragging my feet I posted an essay in March of 2009.  It's a massive understatement to say that I had NO expectation at that moment that nine years later, my essays would have been read more than fifty thousand times by people all over the world; humbling to say the least!

Its interesting now as I write essays regularly to reflect on the readers choices/preferences over the past 179 essays.  Working off of averages, one would expect an "average essay" to generate approximately 280 page views ( 50,000/179=279), but the page view distribution is not very "smooth."  There are actually very few essays with that level of page views, many have small followings (20-30) and a few have hundreds.  Its interesting to note that two essays that I posted in 2009, which I will highlight below, both have generated thousands of page views and are still capturing page views literally this week!  I have learned that when you post content on the internet, you literally put your ideas "out there" for the world to consume, appreciate, or critique.  I find it interesting that these two essays are both foundational to my view of "leadership" and reflect lessons that I have learned across my career.

The most read essay is titled "A teachable point of view", and comes from an experience working closely with a past CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, Neville Isdell.  The lesson of expecting leaders to be not only great thinkers/strategists/problem solvers but also to be great teachers has been a  powerful lesson for me and obviously has rung true to a large set of readers.  Take a second and read ( or re-read) it and see what insights you take from the essay!

The second most read essay is titled "Three impact points of leadership" and is centered on the idea that we "manage" projects and "lead" people.  In this process of leading individuals, we need to always stay focused on the three key "impact points" of leadership, "educating the mind, inspiring the heart, and directing the hands&feet."  This essay is unique because a number of years ago it generated a large number of page views from Poland and I received a request for a Polish translation of this essay.  I am still so curious to know what group in Poland was using this essay, and in what context???  I hope some of the lessons from this story still ring true to you!

I want to close with another genuine thank you and while I am not sure how long I will keep posting essays, I still have a few more stories to share, ideas to explore and you never know, there just might be another 100+ essays in my future!

thanks again!!