Excuses are bad. Withholding important information from our bosses is also wrong. We celebrated Presidents’ Day this week, and a story from the presidency of Abraham Lincoln is both amusing and informative.
Lincoln once remarked to someone in his office that over 1 million men were fighting in the Confederate army. Skeptically, the listener asked Lincoln how he arrived at that figure.
Lincoln replied, “I know there are 400,000 men in the Union army. Whenever we lose a battle, the general says he was outnumbered three to one. Three × 400,000 is over 1 million.”
There are many reasons why it took so long for the Union army to win the Civil War. One was Northern generals offered exaggerated information and placed blame on others. This habit can be deadly within organizations.
The most celebrated military leader that came out of the Civil War was the least political, least self-aggrandizing, and the most truthful with his military assessments–Ulysses S Grant (who also later became a president.)
Grant’s conduct is a good lesson for all of us. Sometimes it takes time, but over the long run, doing the right thing through truth-telling, providing accurate information, and accepting blame when deserved is the best policy for the team and the individual.
Here’s to truth, accuracy, and the American Way.