I thought I’d discuss historical actions that had no clarity behind them. Often I use wars and battle as examples of clarity because the issues are so clear. In general I believe as the character in one of Asimov’s books that, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” As examples, though, they are excellent.
I used Desert Storm yesterday as a very clearly defined set of objectives. In counterpoint we look at the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict with the US that ran from 2003 to whenever. It started with lies i.e. Iraq had nuclear weapons and Iraq funded the 9/11 event in NYC. It continued with confusion and waste. The stated objective was to ‘create democracy’ in Iraq. Talk about goals that are at 50,000 feet. What does that even mean?
Did we mean we were going to take our value system over there? The Iraqi regime was a very bad one. It had all kinds of internal terror. It ruled by fear. It’s major accomplishment was to keep Iraq from being a theocracy. When we destroyed it our steps became an expensive chaos of corruption and force. Short of annexing Iraq and eventually making them the 51st state our efforts were doomed. We have created a situation which has made the world more dangerous and left us seriously embarrassed.
My second example comes from the commercial world. At the end of the 1980’s IBM was in a very powerful position. They had many products in the micro computer and the main frame world and their stock was performing well. John Ackers ran the company at the time.
There were challenges on the horizon though. The division VP’s such as Burlington, VT and Fishkill, NY and other divisions got together to discuss the future. They decided that IBM needed to create a foothold in the growing workstation business. They laid out some objectives and some plans. They then requested a meeting with Ackers and his staff.
At the meeting Ackers got up and told them that there worries were baseless. There was no need for the VP’s to worry and the workstation market wasn’t for them. He almost literally patted them on the head. The VP’s looked at each other and shrugged and went home to continue business as usual.
By the end of the 80’s it was clear that Ackers and his team had no plan and no clear goals for the companies future. The stock started to go down and by 1993 IBM had laid off over 40,000 employees. The people who took over from Ackers since then have only had one plan; keep the stock as high as possible and keep our bonuses coming. They have kept the stock as high as it is by inventing stealth layoffs. They continually lay off people. They gave away their semiconductor division along with its valuable patents to get out of the business. The decline is continual.
All of this came from leaders abdicating their leadership role. Their job is hard and well paid for one reason: to come up with clear direction and goals that motivate their employees to make the whole great. They had a history of doing this but Ackers’ team didn’t continue what was before. And the people who took over after Ackers have been various degrees of mercenaries; in it for the money.
Lack of clarity in your desired outcome is a killer.