[August 7, 2018] Last week I was watching a classic Vietnam War movie, Apocalypse Now (1970). A line by one of the characters got my attention. While Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is traveling upriver to find Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando) when he tells one of the young soldiers looking for guidance on how to scare off the Viet Cong, to just take care of it. This was bad advice.
Many leaders refuse to accept the fact that to properly lead, they must give sufficient information and guidance to accomplish a task or mission. Of course, this is not easy. In fact, it is often hard to give accurate, useful information and guidance but it is more difficult to follow up and ensure it is done properly.
An often repeated comment by poor leaders, when they are asked for guidance, is to say “take care of it.” They are ignoring a basic principle of leadership to provide good professional advice. I always tried to do this and I also insured those in my charge knew they could ask for additional information if they needed it.
I had a bad experience early in my military career when a senior officer gave me bad guidance. I’d asked what to do about the high rate of engine failures in our Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs). His comment was simple … take care of it. To me as a junior officer, that meant that the problem was not important. So I put in low on my priority list of things to do.
A few days later when we were inspected and failed due to the APC problems, that officer was mad that I’d let him down. Lesson learned. I knew to dig deeper into an issue whenever I’m told to “take care of it.” I never take that as guidance, ever.
Leaders must remain vigilant to poor leader guidance. We recognize poor leadership whenever we see it, so it is incumbent upon each of us to get the best guidance we can in order to get our jobs done. Anyone who fails to ensure all relevant information is on hand to do their job are, themselves, being a poor leader.