Have you ever heard the phrase “Ready, Fire, Aim?” Oops, “I meant Ready, Aim, Fire.” Unfortunately, in business and in our personal lives, it is the former that drives our behavior. We speak and act before we think about what we really want to do or say.
Successful leaders need to be sure that they consider things from all angles. Many of us get so emotionally involved in a situation that we argue or demand that our position is the only right position.
In business, there may be decisions that require significant thought. And, of course, there are always decisions that can be made on the fly. As leaders, we are responsible for pulling together information required to make the most apposite decision—taking everything into consideration. Sometimes this takes debate. Sometimes this takes analysis of the consequences of making a particular decision. As we consider all factors, we must be cognizant of the factors’ quality. If the quality of the information is poor, then decisions may be made that can have devastating consequences. When information is solid and well researched, decisions are most likely to have beneficial outcomes.
We must consider all elements when we are faced with making decisions that have short-, medium-, and long-term ramifications. Taking the time to explore these decisions, from beginning to end and mental modeling the potential outcomes, can be worth the time in spades. After all, it can be very expensive to undo something if not done correctly the first time. This reminds me of the old saying, “Never enough time to do it once, but always enough time to do it twice.”
Does this relate to our national agenda and the decision for conflict with Iraq? Of course it does! As we have been bombarded with images of what has been happening over the past few days in Iraq, I can’t help but think about all the alternative planning that must be taking place in order to pull off a mission of this size and scope. Think about it from a corporate perspective. The level of detail planning, the level of contingency planning, and the level of alternative scenario planning that appear to have taken place are awesome. In the first evening of the war, we saw that the careful planning and implementation of a preemptive strike against the Iraqi leadership was a calculation of risk vs. reward and an observation in flexibility—reacting to new information, analyzing it, and then acting upon it. Although at this writing the attack doesn’t appear to have been successful, it does send a strong signal that America is willing to take action that will minimize the conflict in order to accomplish its objective of changing the leadership regime in Iraq.
Taking this national incident as an example, we as leaders need to look at all decisions we make from a variety of angles in order to assess their outcomes and be sensitive to all the ramifications. Remember, “Ready, Aim, Fire,” not “Ready, Fire, Aim.”
“C” is for Courage
As leaders, sometimes we need to take action that is not popular with our followers. This happens often in corporations when we need to take decisive action that may not be fully supported by the organization at large. For example, we may need to downsize the company because of financial considerations or because the market shifted and we were surprised by our competition. Perhaps our competitors introduced a new product that immediately took away market share, leaving us holding the proverbial bag. Followers become disenchanted with the leadership and badmouth them, hoping a leadership change will occur. This occurs in companies all the time, but it actually takes a massive screw up before there is a leadership change at the top.
The etymology for the word courage comes from Middle English corage, old French from cuer or heart, and from Latin cor—all roots for heart. There are other words that capture the essence of courage like mettle, spirit, resolution, and tenacity. When we see leaders take decisive action, we often don’t use the word courage until after the action is taken when, because of its outcome, it seems it was the right thing to do. Monday morning quarterbacking is a wonderful spectator sport.
Like all (or most) Americans I am observing the war in Iraq through a specific lens. Many of us are totally against the war. Many are for the war. However, we see the actions and results each day through our own specific lens. My lens filters information through the leadership lens—all aspects of leadership. Every time I see a report, I am evaluating and filtering the information through a leadership context.
I am continually reminded each day as to the courage these young men and women have in carrying out the orders of their superiors. When I think of the President’s decision to initiate war, I also think of the word courage. If we believe the goal is to topple the Iraqi leadership, eliminate the weapons of mass destruction, and liberate the Iraqi citizens, then it took great courage to make that decision. But we will not fully appreciate the decisiveness until the outcome is clear and the goals and objectives are realized.
When I thought of President Bush’s decision, my immediate reaction was that he would be a one-term president if the war turns out to be a serious miscalculation and unmitigated failure. But if the goals and objectives are achieved, with a minimum of causalities, this decision may be viewed as brilliant. Regardless, many will look back and say that it took great courage to act in the face of the opposition.
Leadership is hard work and there are no definite rights and/or wrongs. Great leaders need vision and a lot of courage to carry out that vision.
Now ask yourself… “Am I a Leader?”