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Ensure the Task is Understood, Supervised, and Accomplished

"In the long run, a short-cut seldom is."

Malcolm Forbes

"Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”

Madame Marie Crie

This leadership principle is all about clear lines of communication. Even the simplest of directives have been filtered through someone else’s understanding and experience, and many of the “nodding heads” in the room are miles away from the mission at hand.

U.S. Military Officer Candidates are taught a lesson through a very old story early in their training.

A young second lieutenant is tasked by his captain with ensuring a flagpole is placed in a particular spot. The new “butter-bar” attacks the assignment, performing numerous calculations and measurements, taking painful care to be exact. His platoon languishes in the hot sun nearby.

The captain watches with amusement until he can stand it no longer.

“Lieutenant, can you take care of this?”

“Captain,” says the exasperated and anxious lieutenant, “I’ll have it right in just a few minutes.”

“Well, stop. Let me show you how to get the job done.”

The captain looks to the platoon and asks the sergeant in charge to come over. They exchange salutes.

“Sergeant, put the flagpole up.”

The sergeant smiles.

“No problem, sir.”

Yes, you can over-think a job. Sometimes the best way is the easy way, and you can just delegate it to a competent person and assume the best. It sometimes requires no follow-up, but you should not stake your reputation on that.

The reality of the civilian workplace is different. Until you have had the chance to really access the effectiveness of all the team members, you need to ensure there is a thorough understanding of the goal, the process, the benchmarks, and who is responsible for given assignments.

No one likes excessive meetings, so if you can get the first one right, it will limit the necessity to re-group. If your vision of the outcome is clear, then it can be conveyed. Prepare documents, practice your talk, and do your own trouble-shooting.

The most effective way to ascertain the effectiveness of your message is to have your people repeat the goal and their own key assignments aloud to the group. This method will do a couple things. First, you will hear what your people heard. Second, your people will become better listeners, certainly after you establish that mission briefings are not a form of entertainment. Third, it gives you a chance to drive home crucial details. Ultimately, you will be better prepared.

Crucial principle: supervise the task. Set benchmarks of activities and deadlines, and then hold everyone accountable to those benchmarks. You cannot achieve your goal without incremental success.

Ronald Reagan famously said, “Trust, but verify.” It was a measure of his success, and how history will treat his achievements. Keep that quote close to your vest. Believe it.

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