Monday, December 14, 2009

Asking Why!

I heard an interesting leadership story today and it went something like this.

A young private was in the middle of boot camp at Fort Dix, NJ. One day he got tasked with painting the parking lot. He had to recover all the yellow lines that marked the individual spots. He was well on his way when he had an accident. He spilled some paint in the middle of the lot. There were no parking spots there so it kind of stood out. He took the paint and evened it out into a circle. So out in the middle of the parking lot there was a big yellow circle. He went on and finished all the parking spots and reported back to his drill instructor that he was finished.

This young private graduated boot camp and never told anyone what had happened. After a few years as an enlisted soldier he went to OCS (officer candidate school). He graduated and became an officer. After being in the army for 15 years and making LTC (Lieutenant Colonel) he found himself back at Fort Dix for a conference. When the sessions where over he happened to drive by the old parking lot that he repainted. To his amazement, it was freshly repainted. All the lines where done in a bold yellow. And wouldn't you know, the yellow circle in the middle of the parking lot was still there! Not only was it there, but it also was freshly painted and bright as could be. For 15 years soldiers in basic training had re-painted the same accident circle over and over.

The moral of the story has to do with leadership. In the Army we have a lot of training that teaches us to do what we are told when we are told. The "why" question is discouraged or even punished if asked. Granted, as a leader, sometimes you need your order carried out immediately and the why question only waste time you might not have. But on a routine basis, we need to train soldiers to ask why.

Good leaders should not fear the why question. Good leaders should explain why often enough that when they can't, their followers understand. Teaching followers to ask why also ensures they understand the intent of the order. If you want a gauge of the effectiveness of your leadership, find out how often your followers know why they are doing what they are doing!

1 comment:

  1. George says,"mine is not the reason why, mine is but to do or die" (similar to an old Korean era quote".
    Usually, "just do it" "don't ask questions".
    However in combat leadership must make fair and appropriate commands. Marines some times yell "die for the corp".
    (as for the army as follows: opinion..........
    I asked questions during combat in Korea that paid off in providing my personal safety. I lived to be a grandpa. posted by ex staff Sgt. Burger