[December 9, 2017] A few years ago one of the U.S. Army’s best machinegun crews was hurt when their gun blew-up. Why was it, that the best crew could have made a mistake that caused such a preventable accident? After an internal investigation (required whenever there are serious injuries) it was determined that the crew had taken unauthorized shortcuts in their firing procedures.
To improve their assembly time, the crew leader told his men to skip two safety checks. One of those checks skipped would have detected an object lodged in the gun’s barrel. When it was fired, the over-pressure in the barrel was beyond its design limits and it burst; the metal fragments hit two crew members. The shortcuts had created risks that lead to serious injuries.
In the army, soldiers are always instructed to follow standard operating procedures. That is why they are taught performance measures that include those procedures. The reason is simple; the risks associated with shortcuts are unacceptable. Like the machinegun crew that failed to check the gun barrel for an obstruction, explosive results can come about if shortcuts are taken.
Likewise, it should be understood by all leaders that there are no shortcuts to long-term success (I addressed this issue earlier, see link here). There is a fundamental truth that great leadership is derived from a clear sense of purpose. With the right purpose, informed decisions are possible. Organizations exist only because leaders take the time and effort to make it so; that is why there are no shortcuts to success … the risks are simply too high.
But, and this is a big but, there are times when taking shortcuts are acceptable. That machinegun crew was chosen as the army’s best in a peacetime environment. War, on the other hand, brings new variables into the equation. Cutting seconds off the installation of the gun may actually save lives. Shortcuts are employed and in some cases encouraged but only for those who are experts in their tasks and understand the risks.
Humans make mistakes and are prone to them; some more than others. It behooves us to use the proper amount of resources (time, money, etc.) whenever doing anything. If we mow the yard, we check our lawnmower for safety hazards and the grass for foreign objects that could injure us. This extra care saves us some known problems but extra scrutiny also identifies unexpected issues.
Good leadership means taking that extra time to prevent the expected and unexpected.
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