Do Something. Even If It’s Wrong to Do Something!

Unique Leadership Axiom: In a crisis for which there is no plan, action is the only plan. As Nike says, “Just Do It!”

The military tries to foresee every possible threat and to plan for it. Note that I said ” tries to”. The Army is good but not omniscient. Guess what, neither are you! Yet we all know that we will encounter shocking surprises for which we had no plan. Knowing this reality, what can we do? What can the military do?

Back in the 50’s a Harvard math lecturer using the stage name Tom Lehrer entertained in bars around Boston. He played the piano and sang lewd songs. One was “Be Prepared”. That title gives us a life plan.

To what extent are you prepared for shocking surprises? You may not think you know the answer. The way you live your life is the answer. Soldiers live life being prepared for change. You know the cliché: when the sergeant says “jump” soldiers have only two possible responses: to jump, or to ask “how high” and then jump. Why are those the only two choices?

Because if you’re a soldier, not just a recruit, the life that you have been leading prepared you to take immediate action. Usually a soldier has orders to follow. In the absence of orders, what option does he have? His only choice is to take action.

This attribute of the military life has a footprint in the jargon of the soldier. The footprint is “Do Something! Even If it’s Wrong, Do Something!” This is a personal imperative. In the absence of a specific order or plan, the action arises from life the soldier has led.

Each of us demonstrates the extent to which our life has prepared us to deal with surprise. In 1959 I was a Lieutenant at Edwards Air Force Base. On the third Saturday in May, Armed Forces Day, I had been on duty since 0-dark-30 preparing for the air show. When the show started I was in the stands. Early in the show, during a low-level flyby, an Allouette helicopter crashed 20 or 30 yards in front of the reviewing stand.


The pilot was killed. His wife and children were in the stands.

One of the spectators raced out of the stands headed for the crash. I was in the top of the bleachers next to the reviewing stand. I dropped the 12 or so feet from the back row to the tarmac. I ran out and headed him off.

In the meantime more spectators were following this guy. By stopping him I stopped a small mob. I then ran back to the reviewing stand where the wife and children of the dead pilot were sitting. I with another officer, got them transported to a place where their needs could be managed.

There was no action plan for this situation. I was both mentally and physically fit and had been living an action oriented life. My lifestyle at that point was the complete explanation for my behavior. I did Something.

When you are surprised by a threat, your possible actions are sorted by your lifestyle and by your previous thoughts and planning. A military lifestyle prepares you to take action. Even if the situation is unique and you had never thought about it in advance, you still need to take action.

America is now confronted by surprise with immense financial turmoil. Even a dictatorship would have found it difficult to be instantly responsive. In this Democratic Republic an effective response was not immediately forthcoming.

Interestingly, people with different lifestyles did respond. Both bureaucrats and politicians responded. There is a great argument about whether the responses will benefit the nation as a whole.

The administration told the American public that only radical action would save them from disastrous economic consequences. Congress fought about what to do and how much to pay for it. In the end the government followed the rule “Do Something. Even If It’s Wrong, Do Something!”

But again, the lifestyle of the government (the people who hold the power positions in government) has been set, at least in part, as a response to a post 9/11 active lifestyle.

A two-year long presidential campaign has coursed back and forth all over our country. A war against foreign terrorists has been waged for years. A war against the “war against terrorism” in the media and Congress is also raging. Everybody involved has been leading an active professional lifestyle.

So when confronted with a worldwide financial crisis, both the Administration and Congress were predisposed to take action. They Did Something. Even If It Was Wrong They Did Something!

Leader’s Focus: Military organizations provide an action oriented lifestyle. Each member is busy on duty and off, Doing Something. That something expands the talents of the individual soldier. That something is not condoned if it is nonproductive. A productive lifestyle professionally and personally is an efficient path to survival.

My Take on Winning: Management teachers say: “If You Fail To Plan, You Plan To Fail”. Military leaders call that pure bullshit! You cannot plan for every possibility! According to the logic of management teachers, failure is inevitable. Clearly not so. For the situations which are beyond planning we need to be sure that our lifestyle predisposes us for survival. A lifestyle that embraces integrity, faith and productivity ensures our success and survival. In these very turbulent times each of us would be wise to adjust our lifestyle so that in emergencies of any type we have the physical, mental, emotional and moral vigor to “Do Something. Even It’s Wrong, Do Something!”

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2 Responses to Do Something. Even If It’s Wrong to Do Something!

  1. Dear Ben:
    Thank you for sharing this really strong story with us.

    This was a really well written and captivating post. Plus a useful post: now that it’s lodged in my self-conscious, it will be available if ever needed.

    I encourage you to share more stories and their lessons.


  2. Great article.
    I was an Air Force Pilot. I you are flying along, nice and comfortable, and you hear “Break XXXX!”
    Not knowing which way is the “best way” it is better to turn in the wrong direction than to continue going straight ahead. Maintaining course, you are guaranteed to get shot down. Breaking in the “correct” direction has a better chance of success, than breaking in the “wrong” direction, but the odds are that breaking in the wrong direction is better than not turning at all.

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