Thomas Ricks’ “General Failure” in this month’s Atlantic is an eyeopener.
“Looking back on the troubled wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, many observers are content to lay blame on the Bush administration. But inept leadership by American generals was also responsible for the failure of those wars. A culture of mediocrity has taken hold within the Army’s leadership rank—if it is not uprooted, the country’s next war is unlikely to unfold any better than the last two.”
Its applications go well beyond the military. I’ve thought long and hard about how it applies to my work as an artist, teacher and business owner. I don’t want to settle for mediocrity. At the same time, I don’t want to create a trail of misery and broken relationships. The cost is too high. Hello, Steve Jobs. But how to do it.
“During World War II, top officials expected some generals to fail in combat, and were prepared to remove them when they did. The personalities of these generals mattered enormously, and the Army’s chief of staff, George C. Marshall, worked hard to find the right men for the jobs at hand. When some officers did not work out, they were removed quickly—but many were given another chance, in a different job. …. This hard-nosed but flexible system created a strong military, not only because the most competent were allowed to rise quickly, but also because people could learn from mistakes before the results became crippling, and because officers could find the right fit for their particular abilities.”
If we can embrace reality. Once more with feeling. If we can embrace reality. Denial doesn’t work. Ever. It can’t work and its cost can potentially be enormous.
- If we truly believe that failure is sometimes the most effective teacher and that people don’t fail as human beings, they fail at tasks and projects. Redemption is always possible. I’ve been the beneficiary of this so I know it to be true. f we can stop expecting overnight success, perfection and serendipity to be the rule rather than the exception.
- If we can stop wanting to reward everyone for even mediocre efforts, they still get over it. No trophies for everyone.
And the corollaries:
Every criticism isn’t directed toward you. However, you need to own your piece of it. Narcissism will be the death of us.
In fact, everything isn’t about you.
A sense of entitlement is pure ugly.
I don’t know whether Ricks is liberal or conservative, hawk or dove. And I don’t care. This article kicks butt. It might be about the failure of recent U.S. generals but it speaks to the issue of American leadership in all sectors.