I was watching one of my favorite television mini-series, HBO’s Band of Brothers, and I came across a forgotten viewpoint from the production.
Although the program centered around the time immediately following the Battle of the Bulge and the besieged 101st Airborn during World War II, part of the drama focused on the leadership of a lieutenant and his platoon. This lieutenant would simply leave his men and wander off for a walk . . . to talk to regiment . . . to get help . . . or god knows what. He was never there to set direction, to discuss operations, to counsel, or even to listen. One scene has him asking questions of a soldier in a foxhole. The soldier answers and then asks the officer a question, but the soldier is talking to thin air. The officer had already turned his back and faded away . . . as if he had never been there at all.
The officer should never have commanded a combat team. He was possibly put there to gain experience, while seeking further advancement. He was shown with an academy ring. The implication being that he was part of a “good old boy” network. This is not unusual in business or the military. The minor sin was that he received command from favoritism or preferential treatment. The major sin was that he assumed command without proper training.
The First Sergeant described the situation exactly: he wasn’t a bad leader because he made bad decisions, he was a bad leader because he made no decisions. A bad leader is worse than no leader. A leader has responsibilities and the people under that leader should have expectations of ability. When an attack was imminent by the platoon, the sergeant complained to an officer up the chain of command. There was no one else to send, but the captain took aside the lieutenant and explained exactly what was to be done: keep advancing and take the village. The attack came and as soon as the platoon came under fire, the lieutenant froze and gave confusing orders to his men. The advance was stopped.
The captain took another lieutenant from another platoon and sent him as a replacement in the thick of the battle to bring order to the attack and finish the advance. Within minutes they took the village.
Now, of course, sometimes it is better to make no decision, while you survey the job, the market, the industry, or your employees, but when decisions are needed, the leader must step up and make decisions. In the case of the lieutenant, his indecision cost lives, including his own.
“Leadership is action. In its most basic form, leadership involves moving people from one place to another, either physically or figuratively. And if you’re going to get people moving, you’d better be sure you know where you’re headed. You have to make decisions about your desired destination and how you’re going to get there. You need to make the right decisions, you need to make them stick, and you need to accept the consequences. ”
- John Baldoni from his book 180 Ways to Walk the Leadership Talk
You could say the lieutenant accepted the consequences and died, but he didn’t even do that. He merely shut down. He died as a consequence, but didn’t really accept the consequences.
A leader needs to make decisions, and he should be trained to make them. There is nothing wrong with a bad decision based on sound judgment (unless it becomes a pattern), but no decisions based on no judgment, is unforgivable. No decisions can cost time; cost money; and can even cost lives.
Author Don Doman: Don is a published author of books for small business, corporate video producer, and owner of Ideas and Training (http://www.ideasandtraining.com ), which provides business training products. Don also owns and Human Resources Radio (http://www.humanresourcesradio.com ), which provides business training programs and previews 24-hours a day.