On leadership and dissent

Benjamin Runkle has penned a fascinating article detailing the first meeting of General John J. Pershing and Major George C. Marshall 100 years ago today during the early days of the AEF involvement in World War I. Pershing, upset with the lack of progress of the Ist Infantry Division, dressed down the division commander. Marshall stood up for his CO and detailed a lengthy list of complaints for Pershing.

Rather than be offended by Marshall’s forwardness, Pershing decided Marshall was one of the few officers he could count on to tell him how things really were. Eventually Marshall was promoted to Pershing’s staff and became his aide after the war ended. That single relationship, Runkle posits, made it possible for the U.S. to win World War II over twenty years later.

It’s an interesting article, well worth reading if for no more than what it says about leadership.

Runkle, however, dropped–perhaps inadvertently–another gem into the article that’s worth considering: “After World War I, Pershing sought to lay the foundation for fighting a future war by establishing boards to evaluate the lessons offered by the AEF’s experience.”

In business and project management we often talk about “lessons learned.” What we’re far too often talking about is what Runkle instead calls “lessons offered.” Every project, successful or otherwise, offers lessons. How often do we really learn them? Does anything change in the next project or the corporate culture that proves we really learned anything.

Just a little food for thought.

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