Leadership Lessons from the American Civil War & Master Bathroom Remodels
Tim O'Bryan 270001NMX7 TIM_OBRYAN@yahoo.com | | Tags:  businessanalytics businessanalyticstoday leadership timobryan | 1 Comments | 821 Visits
“He who hesitates loses.”
The ugly truth of this phrase rings true in the case of battles that never occurred in the American Civil War. For those unfamiliar with this war the American Civil War occurred during the mid-1800′s from 1861-1865 on U.S. soil. It was fought between the North (Union States) and the South (Confederate States) and was primarily triggered by the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Its definitive starting point occurred on April 12, 1861 at 4:30am when the first Confederate shot hurtled into Fort Sumter, a Union stronghold, sitting at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina.
The conflict continued until a final peace was made at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 between Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee. At the outset of the war, the North was better organized, better equipped with a much larger conscription of troops not to mention having far more resources at its disposal than its southern counterpart. Despite the South’s opening victory at Fort Sumter, a largely symbolic victory for the South, many predicted the North would prevail swiftly and decisively. In 1861, President Lincoln was resolutely confident that a string of Union victories as they marched their way from Washington, D.C. to the seizure of the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia would be enough of a blow to the Rebels that the Confederates would be forced to give a total surrender. The key for this surrender to be given though was that the Northern Army needed to move quickly from their current position in Washington, D.C. down to Richmond to dismantle the South’s capital and central command post: without the shepherd (Richmond) the sheep (Southerners) would lack direction forcing an end to the war. All pointed to an assured victory for the North. Or so it seemed. “On to Richmond!” was the northern cry. Lincoln gave the job of leading the Union Army to General George B. McClellan. McClellan was revered for his many talents. Smart, pedigreed, and more than capable, McClellan had the trust of all Northerners. March to Richmond, plant the Union Flag and McClellan was assured to be a hero. As I mentioned earlier, no battle never fought was ever won. Despite overwhelming odds in his favor and indisputable evidence that his army far outnumbered the Southerners, General McClellan repeatedly hesitated to march his troops into battle against the Confederate army which stood between him and his ultimate objective, Richmond. The Confederate capital at the time of his hesitations was literally within McClellan’s sights but he never made it there because he failed to act. Instead, after a few defensive squirmishes with Southern forces and despite multiple requests from Lincoln to fight, McClellan all-too-eagerly retreated hat-in-hand back to Washington, D.C. giving up ground to the South’s General Robert E. Lee who made an aggressive march northward to Antietam into Northern territory. What a turnabout. I wonder if this is what prompted Lincoln to later say, “I can make more generals, but horses cost money.” Obviously, Abe had to mind his dollars and cents now given that this would be a long and protracted war.
My point isn’t to denigrate the character of General McClellan. Not at all. He did many exceptional things in his life of which he should be proud. What I mean to do is to illustrate an example where sitting idle, even when there’s overwhelming evidence to support taking that action, is a missed opportunity. We’ve all done this in one way or another. We wait to act. It happens to the best of us. A lot of times taking action on something means change from the norm and, regardless of the ultimate benefits, we can resist that change because, well, it’s change. These reasons alone are what cause a lot of people to hit their personal pause button and not do anything.
Let’s look at this from a different perspective. Have you ever had your master bathroom redone? If so, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Tons of benefits here. Maybe you’d be getting a new jacuzzi tub, a nice steam shower and even more cabinet space not to mention your own sink this time around… Still, most resist a project like this because it’ll mean losing your bathroom for quite some time before it’s ready for prime time. Big benefits to upgrading your bathroom but there’s certainly going to be some inconveniences (read change) before it’s usable.
No matter how necessary the project is whether it’s redoing your master bathroom or marching regiments of 100,000 men into enemy territory don’t let the forces of hesitation get the best of you. Yes, there will be initial adjustment pains as you go through the process but keep your eye on the ultimate prize – and, when applicable, make sure you’re keeping everyone else’s eye on the prize too.
If you see measurable benefits justifying an investment in something, try to see the benefits beyond the initial ramp up time and just go for it.
(Shameless plug) If you’re thinking of deploying Business Analytics solutions to enable critical business processes at a minimum take stock of what the possibilities are. Look at your processes such as the following:
…take stock of what the best practices are in one or two of these areas and see how your company measures up. Perhaps this is an opportunity to drive a planning & analytics optimization initiative across finance and the rest of the organization (Check out IBM Cognos TM1). Or, maybe you want to look at automating your financial statement reporting practices (Check out IBM Cognos FSR), or even review your risk management practices (Check out IBM OpenPages). Look at the processes first. See what’s preventing these processes from being at a best practice level. There could be many reasons for this. After you’ve done this take a look at the enabling solutions that are out there that address these processes. Whatever it is don’t hesitate because there might be some additional work in the investigation phase or in the technology implementation phase because, once it’s up and running, you’ll be glad you did.
The measurable benefits in adopting these solutions, such as automation, embedded controls, workflow management, minimal administration, etc. which allows for higher frequency forecasting, stronger analytic capabilities, access to real-time reporting, effective scenario analytics, best-in-class predictive analytic capabilities, rigorous statutory reporting & risk management enablement, etc.,with you championing the project can be your path to success while the organization benefits from the bottom line ROI. Everybody wins. You can become the figurehead for it too because you acted on it.
“Fortune favors the bold”.