Kanan Jaswal's Blog on Leadership

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Should a leader be Lincoln to his star performer's McClellan?

With high hopes that the dashing general, popularly called the ‘young Napoleon’, would deliver a decisive victory over the Confederates to him, President Abraham Lincoln had given the command of the all important Army of the Potomac to General George McClellan. The general, conscious of the contribution of training to an army’s effectiveness as a fighting machine, took months to sharpen the soldierly skills of more than a hundred thousand under his command. To Lincoln’s repeated entreaties to him to march south and engage the enemy, McClellan always demanded more time and more of everything an army could need. On top of that he took it upon himself to give a snub to the president when ever he got an opportunity. When the president’s cabinet officers remonstrated with him about the general’s insolence which, in their eyes, amounted to insubordination, Lincoln said, “If he gives me a victory I shall even hold his horse.” But that was not to be, McClellan’s continued aversion to battle ultimately proved too much even for the ever patient Lincoln and he had to divest the young Napoleon of his command.

McClellan, of course, proved to be a star non-performer, but had been a great fighting general, would that justify Lincoln’s indulgence for him? I do not think so. Top performers do require more freedom and latitude than others and the leader should grant them that but they can not be allowed to humiliate the leader. The leader, in a way, represents in his or her person the organisation and a public snub to the leader is an insult to the organisation. If they have good reasons for that, subordinates – stars or otherwise – should be able to register dissent but in no way show disrespect to the leadership. The organisation, being an artificial person, can not be run without clearly laid down and uniformly practised principles of discipline.


Rob Linn and Rich Ottaviano said...

We strongly encourage our clients to engage in open, assertive (but respectful) debate within the senior executive team. But, it is a requirement to maintain a unified front to the rest of the organization. Without that unification, it becomes very difficult for the organization to implement the directives from the top.

It is important, however, in a disciplined organization that it not become autocratic.

Rob Linn and Rich Ottaviano said...

Have you come across any other good leadership blogs?

Kanan Jaswal said...

There's one by Robin Sharma of the- now-sans-Ferrari-monk fame. I also liked a blog on Communication, a vital part of the leadership skill set, www.booher.com/booherbanter. Then there's a leadership forum on www.thatvalueguy.com, but it's yet to warm up.

How about you guys? Please share the links. Thanks.