I remember once when I was working at the Blue Light Behemoth I was tasked with cleaning some shelves. I spent an hour trying to find some cleaning solution to use to take the black gunk, whatever it was, off of the shelf units. Unable to find anything that would work, I finally approached “Billy Bluelight” (names changed to protect the guilty) and asked for help.
“Just use some Windex off the shelf.” he replied.
Sigh. Windex doesn’t clean cruddy shelves. It barely cleans cruddy windows. One of the surest signs that the ship is sinking is when people stop even pretending to care about providing an actual solution to employee problems. As a manager, if your employees are taking the job seriously enough to ask for advice or help, or to voice a concern, you had better listen. After all, these are the people that have to bail water from your sinking ship.
I later found out that I was about the fifth person that day to ask for cleaning solution. Leadership hint: If five or more of your people are asking for something, it’s probably important. Good leaders will craft a working solution to any problem brought forth from their employees, or at least show enough concern to convince the employee that it will be reported properly.
Once upon a time we had a hilltop objective in a training scenario that we were supposed to capture. A new Lieutenant was tasked with leading the assault. The LT stood around a sand table mockup of the objective with a topographical map and walked in circles for a good thirty minutes, frequently questioning his NCO’s about the best tactics to take the hill. Finally, Big Sarge had seen enough.
“Dammit son,” he spit through cigar clenching teeth, “quit looking at the stupid map and start moving up the hill.”
I always thought that was a particularly good point. The best plan, no matter how meticulous never outlasts the first shot and sometimes there is more to be accomplished after you get moving than standing at the planning table. Sometimes, in our desire to be thorough, we create a gaggle of people standing around a sand table when all we really need is a leader to bum rush the hill.
I remember training with Big Sarge once and being given a task to clear a building. I remember the order being pretty urgent, something about a sniper being on the top floor or something. The problem was that there was a big open field that had to be crossed to get to the building. Crossing the field meant taking casualties, but I felt the mission warranted the risk. Big Sarge didn’t agree.
“Why the hell did you run your men across that field, son?” he thundered at me.
“Well,” I replied, “Across that field is the quickest way between where I am now and where I need to be.”
“The quickest way,” Big Sarge replied, “Is the one in which you don’t get your men blown up in the process.”
Ahhhh….gotta love that Big Sarge transferable wisdom. In life and business, we can sometimes clearly see our objective and feel the need to achieve it as quickly as possible. We can’t sacrifice others in the process, however. Is it really worth sacrificing relationships and the working environment to get promoted two months earlier? To get a deliverable done one day sooner? Think about it.
A “kit” or a “ruck” is a basic combat load that a soldier carries on patrol. It varies from mission to mission, and from person to person. As a ground pounder, the thing is to balance weight against utility.
As a young, strong guy, I used to load my pack out with extra gear and food and ammo. I thought, “why not be ready for everything?” One day, as I was struggling to heft my gigantic ruck up onto my back, Big Sarge walks by. ”You’re humping too much crap, son.”
“But Big Sarge,” says I. ”It’s the only way I can have everything under control for sure.”
“Soldiering ain’t about control,” he said. ”And, you’re easier to shoot when you wear a heavy pack.”
If you apply it to corporate life, it still makes sense. We can’t control everything, and putting all of the responsibility squarely on our own shoulders just makes us an easy target. We need to delegate, lighten the load, share the responsibility. That Big Sarge was one smart dude.