Leading Change: A Lesson From America's Civil War
In the spirit of the American presidential election which came to a conclusion yesterday I thought I'd post something about American history as a metaphor for the type of leadership it takes to drive home an analytics initiative.
"He who hesitates loses.” That's really the message for this post. We all have heard this phrase at one time or another. The truth of this phrase rings true in the case of battles that should have but never did occur in the American Civil War.
For those unfamiliar with this war the American Civil War occurred during the mid-1800′s from 1861-1865 on U.S. soil. It was fought between the North (Union States) and the South (Confederate States). This civil war was primarily triggered by the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
Its definitive starting point occurred on April 12, 1861 at 4:30am when the first Confederate shot hurtled into Fort Sumter, a Union stronghold, sitting at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina. The conflict continued until a final peace was made at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865 between Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was a long, protracted war that should have ended within weeks of its start but, because of the hesitance of one man who was waiting for absolute perfect conditions during the initial march from Washington, D.C. to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia the war last many years which could have easily been avoided.
Yes, at the outset of the war, the North was better organized, better equipped with a much larger conscription of troops. Despite the South’s opening victory at Fort Sumter, a largely symbolic one for the South, many predicted the North would prevail swiftly and decisively. "Be home by Tuesday" was a common Northern line. President Lincoln was certainly one of those people who thought this war would end almost as quickly as it started supremely confident that a string of Union victories at the outset would break the southern armies will and end this conflict once-and-for-all.
The key for this total surrender though was that the North's army needed to move quickly from their current position in Washington, D.C. down to Richmond to dismantle the South’s capital and central command post - without the shepherd (Richmond) the sheep (Southerners) would lack direction forcing an end to the war. “On to Richmond!” was the northern cry. Lincoln gave the job of leading the Union Army to General George B. McClellan.
McClellan was revered for his many talents. Smart, pedigreed, and more than capable, McClellan had the trust of all Northerners. March to Richmond, plant the Union Flag and McClellan was assured to be a hero. Victory was thought to be simple as 1-2-3. However, it didn't turn out that way for McClellan. Despite overwhelming odds in his favor and indisputable evidence that his army far outnumbered the Southerners, McClellan repeatedly refused to march his troops into battle against the far inferior Confederate army standing between him and Richmond and most likely him becoming the next President of the United States. War heroes in the U.S. at that time had a way of becoming presidents. But, General McClellan consistently failed to act. There always was an excuse for inaction. Instead, after a few defensive standoffs with Southern forces along the route to Richmond, McClellan, despite multiple requests from Lincoln to fight, eventually retreated hat-in-hand back to Washington, D.C.
My point isn’t to denigrate the character of General McClellan. Not at all. He did many exceptional things in his life of which he should be proud. What I mean to do is to illustrate an example where sitting idle, even when there’s overwhelming evidence to support taking action, is a missed opportunity. We’ve all done this in one way or another. We wait to act. It happens to the best of us.
The same thing that happened to McClellan happens to a lot of businesses where, despite overwhelming evidence from research studies, success stories and dead-broke processes in need of repair - there always seems to be a convenient reason not to try to improve things. Whether it be updating a business process like forecasting or implementing an analytics solution across a department or the enterprise we tend to hesitate too long before acting.
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“Fortune favors the bold."
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