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Failing to Do the Small Things Can Lead to Hellish Consequences.
By Scott McGinnis, CEO, XGrunt Inc. | www.goombaytally | Business Leadership | Business Management | Please contact us at [email protected] for feedback, writer or lecture requests, and advertisement details.
On one cold, fateful night on April 15, 1912, in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, historians tell us that British Merchant Navy officer, Captain Edward John Smith, made a series of avoidable maritime blunders which could have ultimately prevented the tragedy we all know as the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Moreover, we now know that captain Smith and his crew failed to accomplish [procedurally] very “small and simple” tasks that [cumulatively] could have saved 1,517 precious lives.
Mind you, Captain Edward Smith is mostly known and praised for stoically and heroically remaining on his “unsinkable” ship as it submerged into its eternal resting place on the bottom of the cold Atlantic ocean. However, inquisitive historical experts have meticulously combed through carefully preserved records of both American and British reviewing agencies, to assess and identify a laundry list of poor leadership decisions, willful noncompliance with maritime navigational protocol, and well … just good ol’ common sense in many instances.
For example, historian Allen Gibson, author of The Unsinkable Titanic: The Triumph Behind a Disaster, noted that Smith was [indeed] fully aware that the world’s largest liner was headed directly into a 78-mile iceberg zone on his voyage from Southampton, England to New York. However, knowing the inherent dangers associated with navigating such a treacherous area would be, Gibson noted that Captain Smith made a conscious choice to dine with wealthy passengers and hit the sack early that night instead of exercising proactive leadership and putting into motion small, but effective actions that would have turned the maiden voyage of the Titanic into a celebratory historical event instead of the disastrous maritime tragedy that we all read about in history class.
In fact, records show us that Captain Smith left the daunting task of dodging icebergs with his first officer William Murdoch that night as he retired to his quarters.
Historians and maritime experts are still scratching their heads today over other equally fateful decisions that Smith and his crew made that would seem intuitive now – but were not accomplished for whatever reason during that 1912 voyage. For instance, why didn’t Smith simply change the ship’s course altogether or at least reduce the ship’s top speed of 22.5 knots at a minimum.
Here’s one: why didn’t Smith’s two lookouts in the Titanic’s crow’s nest have binoculars with them early that morning? Would something as simple as possessing “better optics” in the crow’s nest have given Murdoch enough of a warning and lead to avoid the fatal iceberg? Who knows? But again, these are [seemingly] small disciplines, that could have significantly changed the outcome of the Titanic’s voyage at 2:20 a.m.
Similarly, many aren’t aware that captain Smith waited an entire 20 minutes after his ship hit the iceberg before he finally directed his wireless operators on board to send out distress calls to nearby vessels.
That means that the next time you sit down and watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory, it would have taken captain Smith almost the entirety of the program before he decided to let anyone know he was in deep trouble. The tragic fate of the Titanic was unfortunately facilitated by several [cumulative] missed opportunities and leadership failures.
Doing the Small, Boring, Repeatable, Things Everyday is Vital to Effective Military Operations.
The United States military is not a perfect institution, but it sure as heck is the best in the world by a long shot. And that’s all that really counts on the battlefield at the end of the day. One of the premier attributes of our military leadership enterprise, is its ability to dissect, examine and perform academic autopsies on military accidents, mishaps, or operational miscalculations … and in turn, build digestible lessons learned opportunities around them.
Why do you think there are [literally] checklists for almost every conceivable process or procedure in the armed forces? My basic training buddies used to joke that there had to be a comprehensive checklist in the Army for using toilet paper when you’re sitting on the “crapper.” And if there wasn’t one in print at the time … then there had to be some poor staff officer sitting down somewhere putting one together.
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Yes, there are about a million things in the world more exciting than running a pre-flight check on a F-15C fighter jet … but doing these critical “little” things could possibly prevent this lethal, $27.9 million aircraft from tragically falling out of the sky.
The 1994 Fairchild Air Force Base B-52 crash, the U.S. Army’s Ft. Hood shooting in 2009, and the USS John S. McCain’s collision with an oil tanker in the summer of 2017 … all serve as powerful lessons learned for our nation’s military leaders today. After a disastrous tragedy like the ones mentioned above; evaluators, investigators, or inspector general offices will typically examine every operational guidance publication, training module, management decision, equipping profile, and execution variable that could have possibly contributed to the accident or mishap.
We then use these lessons to help prevent similar occurrences in the future. Consequently, we rewrite lessons plans, readjust our training objectives, and yes … revisit our policies and checklists based on these historical events. That’s what professional organizations do. But in order to correct potentially harmful business or organizational practices in the future, leaders have to be incredibly transparent and painfully honest when examining their critical programs.
What Will the Devin Kelley Investigation Ultimately Tell Us About The Importance of Doing the Small Things Everyday?
Just days following the First Baptist Church shooting by former Air Force Airman, Devin Patrick Kelley, we’re finding out that Air Force law enforcement agencies failed to submit Kelley’s criminal history data to the appropriate federal databases as required by national and Department of Defense policy.
Again, a simple [small] thing to accomplish on the balance, but we now know the potentially hellish consequences of not alerting federal agencies of mentally and emotionally unstable individuals in a timely manner.
Could Kelley still have acquired a weapon even if the Air Force followed DoD guidance and reported Kelley’s required criminal background information to the FBI’s database? Possibly. But that’s not what’s being reported in the media right now. Right now, Don Lemon is talking about the U.S. military failing to “do the small things” — when it counts.
The ironic part of this story is that the Air Force actually has the highest criminal history data submission compliance rate out of all the services. Unfortunately, all it takes is one miss, one failed submission, and one lunatic in Texas to bring you and your organization under the national spotlight.
Invariably, the Department of the Air Force, the Department of Defense, FBI, and finally … Congress will closely examine the timeline of events that ultimately led Airman Kelley to carry a Ruger AR-556 rifle into a peaceful, quiet church outside of San Antonio, TX and take the lives of 25 (plus one unborn child) innocent Americans.
Inevitably, we will find out that people in critical and trusted positions of authority and responsibility, probably failed to follow DoD guidance and neglected to accomplish a series of small things that may be time consuming, boring, and tedious … but at the end of the day, could have [potentially] saved precious lives, and kept the U.S. Air Force off of the front page of the Washington Post.
Ensuring Your Organization is Taking Care of the Small Things.
As leaders and managers, this incident should force us all to stop … pause, and think about what small things or processes our teams may be “dialing in” on or just going through the motions procedurally, and not exercising the required attention and focus that it demands.
By Scott McGinnis | Goombay Tally | Share us on Linkedin