Thursday, June 29, 2006

Courageous Patience

Admiral Hyman Rickover, discussing the development of the nuclear submarine program, observed, "Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous patience."

Patience, of course, depends upon one's definition of time. What may seem patient to one person may be dilatory to another. When Chou En-lai was asked his opinion of the French Revolution, he replied, "It's too soon to say." American attitudes - so well summarized by the Nike slogan "Just do it" - favor action and equate lengthy pondering with indecisiveness. Americans are extremely tolerant of mistakes that are made in the course of action. They recognize that such things happen. They are less understanding, however, of the leader who will not get the wheels moving. That is one reason for the lasting affection for President Franklin Roosevelt's approach to dealing with the Great Depression. He may not have always done the right thing, but he did something.

Americans are skeptical of any leader or intellectual who wants to think it all out ahead of time. They know the world doesn't operate that neatly. The commander who can make decisions in response to changing circumstances will be far more effective than the cloistered intellectual who is risk adverse. George McClellan's knowledge of Napoleon's battles would have wowed the Harvard faculty but it was the mud-splattered and action-oriented General Grant who won the Civil War.

But that brings us back to time and specifically the issue of timing. In some crucial matters, leaders know that there will only be one bite at the apple. Resources must be developed. Execution must be tested. The same critics who moan for fast action today will later shout that rash behavior produced disaster. The wise leader has to distinguish between decisions that can wait and decisions that must wait.

With regard to the latter, the leader has to adopt an attitude of indifference. Despite our desire for a world in which everything happens now if not sooner, certain projects require large dollops of time. It takes a gutsy leader to stand up to the pressures of precipitate action; a leader, in short, with courageous patience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An apt article for any application in any field.....thank you.