As we continue to see the new administration struggle with its cabinet members being confirmed, resigning, stepping down, or being eviscerated in the media, we would do well to remember that around 145 years ago another President had a similar experience with those he appointed to lead the Union Army.
President Lincoln went through no less than 6 different generals in 4 years during the Civil War (McClellan, Hooker, Burnside, Halleck, Meade, and Grant). Talk about challenging! He did much any President (or leader) would do; he selected the person he thought had the best chance of success at that time. Once he saw that this was not the case, he made changes. Interestingly enough, he did not make these changes quickly (to the chagrin of his Cabinet). He often tried to mentor his generals before casting them aside. At the end of day, he (like all leaders) realized that the ultimate decision rested with him. While it is never fun to admit a mistake, I think leaders should be willing and able to stand up and take responsibility for a new direction if it is merited. We certainly cannot change direction anytime the wind changes but if we receive incontrovertible evidence, we must act.
Several years ago Jack Welch wrote an op-ed piece in the WSJ talking about the courage needed to change your mind when you are the leader. He pointed out that it is easy to simply follow the directives you give regardless of the results and pretend that things are going fine but that is not the leader’s job.
Personally, I think we often mistake a leader changing their mind with confusion or indecisiveness. This could not be farther from the truth. I think we should demand that our leaders constantly re-evaluate their positions based on current data. I am not a proponent of continuous change for the sake of change but I am a supporter of continuous improvement.
I think F. Scott Fitzgerald was right when he said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. “