“That’s enough Lieutenant Anderson!”
I sat down and stayed quiet for the rest of my battalion commander’s weekly meeting. I saw the smirk on our operations officer’s face. As I walked out of the room later, a friendly captain patted me on the back, shook his head and told me not to give up.
Listening to stories at my 25th West Point Reunion this weekend reminded me of this previous blog.
I would often be the only lieutenant in these meetings full of higher ranking officers. I was there to fill in for my boss.
Half the time I would throw out a challenge, the Colonel would say “Why am I only hearing this from a LT. Why didn’t one of you Captains or Majors bring this up.” The other half of the time I was shut down quickly.
My father, a retired General and a Vietnam veteran always told me, “Take care of your soldiers and they will take care of you.” That was always my goal. But, it did not always go over well.
At first I thought it was because I did not “play the game”. I was not politically savvy. I just wanted to do what was right for my soldiers. As a result, I challenged a decision if I thought it was not in the best interest of the men.
I didn’t just complain. I brought solutions to the table. I used to think that as long as I brought solutions, my comments were helpful.
It was not until I left the Army and looked back at those meetings that I understood why my commander’s reactions would be so different on different days.
Timing- The Difference Between Criticism and Input
Input occurs before the decision has been made. Criticism occurs afterwards.
As a young, overly confident 25 year old lieutenant, I was not wise enough to understand that the timing of my remarks made a big difference.
If a decision is still being discussed, as a leader, no matter what my rank, I should speak up and offer solutions to improve the outcomes.
But if the decision is made, all I am doing with those exact same comments, is throwing sand in the gears and slowing down progress.
I may not agree with the decision, but it is my responsibility at that point to implement the strategies that come from above, to the best of my abilities. Unless…
Never Stay Quiet When It Is A Moral or Legal Issue
Timing does not matter when a leader is dealing with a moral or legal issue. If a decision is immoral or if it is unlawful every leader has a duty to speak up. This takes courage if I am a lower ranking leader. But my rank does not relieve me of my responsibility to speak up. Leaders lead. Period.
The Bottom Line:
The lessons I learned as a young officer in the Army prepared me for the business world. I am still not into the politics of the office. I still speak up. But I know that the timing of my comments is important.
Timing is often the only difference between what is seen as valuable input and what is seen as criticism. I will always argue for a better way if the decision has not been made yet. But, once it is made, it is time for me to follow.
If I decide to continue to speak out after the decision, I must be sure I am not fighting just because I have a different opinion. That is not good enough.
After a decision is made, I have a duty to fight for moral and legal issues. Otherwise, my duty becomes to support the decision made by my leaders.
What other traits separate input from criticism?