Follow Up or F*** Up

Unique Leadership Axiom: In business if you screw up, you may get fired. In the military if you screw up, you and your men may die from enemy fire!

Leadership, like war, is a team sport The moment a sergeant. takes over his squad he starts building leadership in each and every soldier. His tools are: Assumption of Responsibility, Delegation of Authority and Follow-Up.

Every mission has a plan. The plan and the execution of the plan are the responsibility of the leader. Leaders are not supermen, they are delegators who follow up. They are not micro managers!

Micro managers create casualties. Micro managers destroy unit morale and waste the resources of their organization. Micro managers are dangerous.

Delegating authority is very hard the first time you have to do it. In the beginning the designated leader is doing something entirely new to him and often lacks confidence in the process and in himself.

Leadership is developed in small steps. It’s like running a marathon. No one starts out running 26 miles. One starts out running a quarter-mile. As you extend the range of your training you keep track of your capability and your performance. That’s follow-up.

Follow up has many faces. Once I had a new secretary who had been selected because she had great experience and a record of excellent performance.

On a particularly busy day I asked her to ignore her other duties in order to type an important letter. I needed the letter to go out immediately. She informed me that it would take at least two hours to get the letter done properly. I sat down at the typewriter and produced the letter in about 10 minutes.

I never again had any false explanations of how long a task would take from that secretary. That was follow-up, letting the employee know that I fully understood the tasks being assigned.

But follow-up can be abused. A company that created computer analyses of military combat, employed an outstanding computer programmer. He prided himself on delivering an outstanding product on time without having the supervisor look over his shoulder. The programmer had promised to deliver code on a particular date.

Unfortunately his supervisor was a micro manager. This was during the era when codes were written on punched cards. A few days before the promised delivery date, the supervisor asked the programmer detailed questions about how the work was going.

The reaction of the programmer was to throw the whole deck of cards on the floor and tell his supervisor to check it for himself. This juvenile response showed the explosive emotionally combative feelings generated by micro management.

I saw an example of productive follow up in a small aircraft company called Scaled Composites. This is Burt Rutan’s Company, famous for building the Voyager that in 1986 set the world distance record for an airplane (24,987 miles).

Scaled Composites employed less than 30 employees at the time I visited their facility in the California desert. At the end of the last work day each week, the employees would meet together in a single room. They would discuss what things need to be completed before the start of work on Monday

Typically there would be a few things planned for completion that week that were not yet done. As a group they would decide which employees should work over the weekend to ensure a smooth start of the next week. That was not a management cram down. It was voluntary. It was a brilliant use of follow-up because each employee was doing their share of the following up!

At the end of each project the Scaled Composites employees would meet again. This time they would discuss the distribution of the profits from the last project. This would include reinvestment, paying debts, pay raises and bonuses. Brilliant!

Leader’s Focus: Every thing you do, large or small, is built on a plan. Even if that plan is just a notion in your mind. Always include follow-up as a safeguard against surprise.

My Take on Winning: For young officers, for anyone advancing to a new level of responsibility, follow-up is the life vest which will save you from drowning in a sea of unintended consequences.

To me that means that when you get promoted to more responsibility you survive by knowing how to employ follow-up.

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