7,000 Americans stood together against the approaching British forces of about 5,000 Redcoats led by Major General Robert Ross. The year was 1815 and the attack was a push towards Washington DC. The British marched from the bay where they had left their ships directly toward the American forces holding a narrow bridge, flanked by high ground. The British plan was simple; march toward the Americans and push them back into the city of Washington. Simple in design and big on execution the plan worked. 7,000 Americans began the day together, but by the afternoon there were only approximately 500 men left all serving under Commodore Joshua Barney, Marines and Sailors, that stayed to fight once the shooting began in earnest. This group rallied behind Commodore Barney and fought with cannon and shot and held off the advancing army for hours. They had expected their American peers to remain committed to the defense of the capital city but sadly Barney and his compatriots watched as the surrounding American militia that had stood with them earlier dissolved around them. 6,500 soldiers of the American militia retreated in less than an hours time leaving Barney and his crew to face the enemy alone. The Americans began the morning with every advantage but the overwhelming majority of the militia had decided they were going to lose, gave up, and lost.
After hours of fighting and suffering a critical wound in the leg and teetering on unconsciousness, Commodore Barney finally ordered his men to abandon their posts and retreat. He stayed behind bleeding, to bravely face the enemy alone, and was taken prisoner.
Their British war-plan held no elaborate scheme or strategy. Rather, their resolve toward forward movement had broken the lines and the commitment of the American defense. That same day the British entered Washington and burn down the White House.
Every situation provides opportunities to make a choice. Military planners encourage commanders to look for three distinct courses of action and comparing options. Business leaders will develop strategic business plans full of branch plans and department goals. The effort and thought that goes into this process can mean the difference between success and failure, and it is time well spent. However, after the plan is decided and the directive is published that is where the tangible leadership begins. All the planning, research, charts and graphs won’t help a leader if they are unable to keep employee’s heads in the game and see them through to the finish!
Companies hire highly educated people to design and develop the way ahead, they possess the skills and ability needed to create the right roadmap for your organizations future. You seemingly have all the pieces, but failure still happens- why? Unless your leadership can focus on ensuring that your teams maintain their shared vision, level of commitment and execute on the plan you will still fall short. And, execution done brilliantly, but only for a short time is still a loss. Getting to the battle with all your gear is an admirable feat to be sure, but you only win if you fight.
Our leadership development program quotes General Vandergrift, a Marine hero of World War II. He stated “Positions are seldom lost because they have been destroyed, but almost invariably because the leader has decided in his own mind that the position cannot be held.” How many deadlines, sales pipelines and budgets have been missed because the leader decided that it simply couldn’t be done and stopped execution on the plan?
What kind of commitment do the leaders in your company make toward upholding a plan and supervising its’ execution? Are they aware that as one gets closer to success there is a natural human tendency to ease off the throttle? Are they prepared to counter that bit of human nature and finish at a sprint?
Set expectations for your team. Give them a way to communicate back to you but always remember that a leader’s greatest challenge is to maintain their commitment to the process. Their commitment must resonate with each individual and their team. An unflinching resolution is critical or all the advantages you hold could potentially be erased before the battle is even decided. It all starts with making a commitment to lead and seeing the project through.
At the conclusion of the War of 1812 Commodore Barney was presented with a decorative sword from the city of Washington. His bravery, standing in defense of our nation’s capital was exemplary on a day when the rest of the American militia were noted more for their lack of faith and failure to remain committed to the plan.