Friday, January 21, 2011

Will you just make a decision?

Major General George B. McClellan (National Archives)
"Indecision and delays are the parents of failure" ~ George Canning

You have checked all the facts, figures, and opinions of your management team, you then re-checked them, your ready to launch your new campaign. Right before you push the button you start to doubt yourself and all the information that you've used to come to this decision. The "What if's" start to bombard you, you are doubting that you are in the right position to launch.

There are many of Leaders and managers out there that have this all to common problem. Indecision, the inability to make a decision. Meet Major General George B. McClellan, he is here today to show us why indecision is a quick way to failure.

General McClellan was a graduate of West Point and had been involved in the Mexican-American war as a engineer. He had even went back to be an instructor at West Point prior to resigning his commission and working for the Illinois central railroad. In 1861 at the outbreak of the American Civil War. Ohio Governor William Dennison appointed George McClellan to Major General of the Ohio Volunteers. Based on his previous history in the military and Governor Dennison pressure, President Lincoln appointed George McClellan to the rank of Major General in the regular army. Major General McClellan had two quick victories, so to speak. One, he prevented Kentucky from seceding from the Union. Secondly, he fought a series of engagements in what is now, West Virginia, that kept the south from taking control of that part of Virginia. The importance of these two victories combined with General McDowell's defeat at the Battle of First Bull Run, had Major General McClellan as the Commander of the Army of the Potomac and by November of 1861 he was the General-in-Chief of all federal armies.

Major General McClellan went from leading volunteers to leading the entire Union Army in 7 months! Granted, the union was looking for anyone to bring them some victories and save some face after the initial wins by the south. Still, it was pretty impressive. Let's look at some of his good traits:

  • Great organizer: Upon taking over the Army of the Potomac he provided them with training and re-organized them into a more efficient fighting unit.
  • Great Motivator: The union army was down and out, low self-esteem, he instilled in them an esprit de corps. By all accounts from that time, his men loved him.
  • Great planner: He could plan all day long, consistently taking everything into account.
Now the bad:
  • Terrible execution: He had the great plan, motivated men and commanders, yet he would not pull the trigger. He always was convinced that the southern armies opposing him had greater numbers. He even felt this way when he had credible facts and information that he had the superior force.
  • Poor communication with superiors: There where many times that Major General McClellan would blow off President Lincoln and other politicians of the time. Therefore, he quickly lost support in Washington,D.C. 
  • Overcautious This guy had every excuse in the book why right now wasn't a good time to attack or carry out his plan. He was so afraid to fail, that he choose to do nothing. Thereby failing. 

“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision” ~ William James

Despite being a good organizer and motivator Major General McClellan could not execute his own plans. His overcautious nature and inability to make a decisive decision was his ultimate downfall. How can we avoid these mistakes?
  • The hardest thing about making a decision is, making the decision. You will find that there are times when you wish you had more information. Understanding that you can only go with what you know right now, you do not have the luxury of hind sight or what information may be available a month from now. Trust in your experience and the knowledge that you have on hand now. Pull the trigger, make the decision, fear of failure will keep you locked up in a perceptual state of doing nothing.
  • Understand that each time you fail to act, the competition just got a reprieve. Just like in a heavy weight fight, the first one to throw and land the big punch has the best chance at winning. The competition is no different, if your delaying your action, it gives them the opportunity to attack the market and gain a larger share of it. Likewise, when you go on the offense first, they must now be reacting to you vice you reacting to them. With the speed of information nowadays, your customers are watching this unfold. No one wants to be rooting for the loser, take the initiative and attack.
"Indecision is the seedling of fear" ~ Napolean Hill
  • Fear of failure will get you faster to failure then anything else. There are times to play it safe, but generally it is much more effective to make the decision and go for it. You will make bad decisions, as long as that's not your track record and you learn from it, you will maintain support. If you are continually showing that you cannot make a decision, no one, including your boss is going to stay in your corner long. More importantly, the people that you lead will not stay in your corner. When you are indecisive they have no clue what you want on a regular basis and this will cause delays. Therefore, causing stress to skyrocket in your department or company. When you have a track record of making decisions, people have a much better idea of what to expect and what you are expecting of them and are able to act much quicker.
I hope that this history lesson has been helpful to you. I know that many times people want to do the right thing and make the right call. Too many times, people hold on and don't pull the trigger. A decision is nothing more then making a decision. Yes, some decisions have greater consequences then others, rely on your training, education and experience and you will be fine. Just make a decision! Your bosses, you and more importantly the people that you lead will be thankful. Trust me.

What are some other ways being indecisive can be counter productive?
Have you worked for a indecisive leader? What was it like?

reference for George B. McClellan

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