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Treat Those With Bad News Well, or You'll Never Know What Hit You

Mar 17, 2008
Listen up! Treat your irresistible force messengers well, you the forces will overwhelm you before you can take appropriate action.

In the Cabinet War Rooms from which Winston Churchill and the British War Cabinet functioned during World War II bombing raids, there is a very interesting letter on display from Churchill's wife to her husband. Written during the early days of the war, in this letter she tells of having been approached by an officer working for Churchill who recounted to her that Churchill was being very unpleasant to anyone who tried to bring up difficulties.

The officer reported that everyone had given up trying to reason with Churchill, and just went along with his ideas (even when they were very wrong). Churchill's wife wisely reminded him that people used to like to work with and for him, and that he needed people to tell him what he needed to hear. She counseled him to kindly seek out other views.

As a devoted husband, Churchill was willing to accept this unpleasant message from his much-adored wife. Audio tapes available to visitors at the War Cabinet Rooms recounting the experiences of those who later worked with Churchill indicated that he subsequently pulled back a little in pugnaciously pursuing his own ideas, and no longer pushed people to tell him what he wanted to hear and to do exactly what he demanded.

He gave enough room for people to push back, and many disasters were averted. For example, Churchill soon thereafter dreamed up a plan to take most of the Royal Navy into an action near the Continental coast, without air cover while the Luftwaffe was still strong.

The admirals properly pointed out that this was folly in the face of the Luftwaffe and U-boats that the fleet would encounter (substantial irresistible forces if one could not defend oneself), and Churchill listened . . . even though he made his disagreement clear. For the rest of the war, Churchill received the news he needed to hear as a result.

He never thereafter ordered his military advisors to go against their best judgment, although he would firmly test their thinking every step of the way. He spent every spare minute contacting those around the world in the best position to know what the circumstances were, so that he could accurately assess the odds the British people were facing.

Lest we think that Churchill's early war behavior was unique, most organizations have this same problem. Leaders are inclined to tell people to "get the results" the leaders want.

While encouraging people to seek stretch goals is a wise objective, this can be taken too far when irresistible forces are in play. Knowing that they are between the proverbial rock and a hard place, people tend to stop sharing the causes of the problems they see in an effort to avoid being told to get the results anyway. The smart ones start sending out their resumes, knowing that they may be selected as scapegoats when the leader's desired results fail to occur.
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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