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The Midweek Motivator – General Rules: Action over Plan

Superior leaders in business (media included) believe in recognizing the crucial difference between “strategy” and “tactics.” Even in 2022 many successful generals, admirals, CEOs and department heads recognize the value of studying war-making. 

As commander of America’s Third Army, embroiled in an all-or-nothing campaign against some of Germany’s finest troops, to the amazement of his peers and the enemy, against the odds General Patton stormed across France and Germany with lightening speed.

Today, too many leaders devote a disproportionate amount of time working on plans; yet minimize the connection between those plans and ultimate results! Someone once asked me “what’s the difference between a leader and boss?” I replied, “To be exceptional, a leader has to be part dreamer, part realist.” When a company executive or a regional market manager gets mired in detail and red tape, strategy often gets stalled. It’s this simple: your job is not complete simply by declaring what has to be done; you have to detail how it’s to be done.

Some leaders see themselves exclusively as strategists, drawing up sweeping game plans for their division or their market. Of course it’s a positive thing to think big, to stretch your team’s vision; but not at the expense of today’s crucial priorities. Never let long-term strategic concepts pull you away from your immediate tactical challenges. A crisis knows no calendar!

The Service Academies constantly remind future leaders that commanders must remember that

issuing an order or designing a plan is only about ten percent of their leadership responsibility! The other ninety percent is to personally take responsibility for the strategy so that plans are completely understood, then carried out successfully.

While with the Navy an outstanding leader named James Cassault cautioned us, “Great leadership is 95% follow-through!” Inside the media business and beyond some senior leaders see themselves purely as strategists and planners, as opposed to in-field leaders or “marshals” on which their staff members’ growth and development turns. So, you ask: “Which am I supposed to be; in-field leader or strategist?” The answer is of course, “be both!”

Leadership involves a delicate balance between planning and improvisation. Ideas, plans, and their execution are meaningless unless they work. As for Patton, it’s said he did rely on back-up plans but cautioned his staff never to depend on them. For each of us in the present moment; in business or in life, second chances are few and we should never rely on “do-overs.”  

Discovered by a family member and recorded in General Patton’s West Point notebook: “There is only one time to do a thing right; that is the first. There may be no next time.”

For each of us regardless of title or corporate affiliation, we can always learn from each other.