Taking Action

March 20, 2003

From Kirk Alter of Purdue University and Fast Management,Inc., Director of the PHCC Educational Foundation's Managing PHC Projects Course

General George B. McClellan was a master at training troops. He was known to be an able strategist. He was beloved by his men. He had only one problem: He didn't want to attack. He kept the Army of the Potomac camped on the Potomac, training, adding men, doing everything but fighting.

President Abraham Lincoln visited his hesitant general, but McClellan insisted that Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia had him vastly outnumbered and that an attack would be disastrous. Finally, in exasperation, Lincoln wrote his general: "My dear McClellan: If you don't want to use the Army I should like to borrow it for a while. Yours respectfully, A. Lincoln.

Contrast that with General George S. Patton. As he led his Third Army toward Berlin in World War II, Patton received word from his superior, General Omar Bradley, that he was to not take the German city of Trier. Bradley reasoned that the city would take three divisions and Patton had only two, so he told Patton to hold off.

But the hard-charging Patton had already taken Trier. His reply to Bradley was classic: "Have already taken city, do you want me to give it back?"

Planning is critical, strategy is vital. Thinking through the consequences of both victory and defeat is crucial. Training and preparation are essential. But at some point you have to pull the trigger. Patton knew that.

The time for thinking, for planning, for strategizing, is before the first punch is thrown (on the job). After that, whoever is more agile, mobile, and even hostile (aggressively seeking maximum profitability) is the one who's going to walk away a winner.

So what are you taking action on today??

[Sources: Leading Up: How to Lead Your Boss So You Both Win by Michael Useem (Chapter 1); Buck Up, Suck Up ... and come back when you foul up by James Carville & Paul Begala (Chapter 3).]

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