‘Take Care of It’ … is Bad Advice

By | August 7, 2018

[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.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “‘Take Care of It’ … is Bad Advice

  1. Drew Dill

    I too had this experience with a boss who liked to say it all the time. JUST DO IT, was the nickname all my employee peers gave to Mr. Jonathan Sullivan, Manager of a K-Mart in Texas. No, he no longer works there. He was a nice guy but clueless about how to be a good and effective leader.

    Reply
  2. Scotty Bush

    Wonderful reading on your blog. Thank you Gen. Satterfield. Please continue to write on topics like this one.

    Reply
  3. Billy Kenningston

    I’ve seen the movie many times and loved it; although I felt a little weird. Great job on a leader relevant topic.

    Reply
  4. Jerome Smith

    This article is about bad leadership in practice. To tell a subordinate – or anyone – to “just take care of it” is terrible. I had this happen to me on many occasions. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I needed to ask for more advice.

    Reply
  5. Doug Smith

    Leaders often dispense with bad advice in all sorts of ways. This is one of the worst because it gives a completely unclear and distorted picture of what they may want. Bad leadership, bad advice.

    Reply
  6. Max Foster

    Like so many others, I too have been told to ‘take care of it.’ I never really knew what it meant. Now I know it means the one giving this guidance is a poor leader and they simply don’t care about the results. They may really care but they are not showing it. Steer clear of leaders like this; they will ultimately change or fail.

    Reply
  7. Jonathan B.

    Hello everyone and glad to read the comments so far. A well-constructed argument here at theleadermaker website. I think it hits home to many who are leaders and should be something of a lesson for those who are learning the basics. Pay attention. Giving this bad advice is one of the most common mistakes of new leaders.

    Reply
  8. Georgie M.

    Really good start to the day when I read General Satterfield’s blog. Thanks. 🙂

    Reply
  9. Wilson Cox

    Well said. Leaders should always be careful what they say (and do) so they do not give an incorrect perception of what they really want. This is where careful listening helps.

    Reply
  10. Lynn Pitts

    Yes, another relevant blog post on a subject often overlooked. Leaders do sometimes give bad advice and this is one of the most common. Unfortunately, it gives the impression that it’s either low priority or they don’t want to deal with the responsibility when fallout occurs.

    Reply
  11. Army Captain

    I read the title of this post and laughed. I’ve gotten this “guidance” so many times, I lost count. You’re right in that this is truly bad advice.

    Reply

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