"Don't get in the way of good people doing good things"

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Lander & Rogers Practice Group Leader - Consulting, Anthony Kearns, shares tips from General Cosgrove for lawyer-leaders in a crisis.

The quote "Don't get in the way of good people doing good things" is from General Peter Cosgrove (retired) and it has stuck with me since I heard him say it at a breakfast meeting on Managing in a Crisis in 2001.

It was an answer to one of those questions I really hate in these forums: “What are your two or three top tips for managing in a crisis?”

You might as well stand up and say: “I am a potential leader but nobody has given me the right checklist yet.”

The General was a lot more generous (and succinct) in responding than I would have been: “I only have one rule in a crisis: don’t get in the way of good people doing good things.”

He went on to say it is tempting when you come into a new situation to think you have all the answers, that you know best. You have already hatched a plan on the way there and you can’t wait to save the day. He has seen many leaders in these situations make the fatal error of not first inquiring of the people who have been there since it started to find out what they know already, what is working and what they need from him to be able to keep doing it.

As he said it you could see why he commanded the respect of the men and women who served with him, but I don’t think this is limited to managing in a crisis. This is relevant to everybody who aspires to take over something that involves other human beings.

Hence, the genius of the General.

Once you ride into town, dismount, water your horse, walk the streets and take it all in for a while. Move among the soldiers with curiosity and compassion. Seek to deeply understand their challenges, strengths, resources and achievements. Work out what they need in order to do even better work but most of all, find out what they think will make the biggest difference. Then, together, work out what to do.

A common theme is emerging.

Another Vietnam vet and respected leader (my father-in-law, Bob) once told me: “When you have been in the s%@t and lost half your men, first work together with those who are left to appreciate your assets and decide what to do. This way, you develop both a plan and the motivation to deliver it at the same time.” (more on Bob and appreciative inquiry here).

Great leadership is often in the space between decisions.

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Anthony Kearns

Practice Group Leader, Consulting