Not as Easy as Advertised

Posted 03.23.2011

A few weeks ago, New York Times Columnist Nick Kristof was arguing for the imposition of a no fly zone over Libya and cited a quote from retired Air Force Chief of Staff General Merrill McPeak to make his case.

"I can't imagine an easier military problem," McPeak told Kristof.

As we know now, it's not as easy as advertised. The military aspect of the exercise appears to be going well. But, as widely reported, there are big problems with defining objectives, determining who's in charge of the joint operation, what the end game is and lots more.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on The Questions Leaders Need to Ask About No Fly Zones. After a few days of the no fly zone operation, it seems a lot of those questions still need to be answered. You can read the full treatment in the original post but here are the basic questions:

  • What’s the goal?
  • What’s in scope and out of scope?
  • What are the required steps?
  • What are the true costs?
  • What are the pros and cons?
  • What are the possible side effects?

Sometimes I coach executive leaders who are known for underselling the complexity of what they're asking their team to do.  Their team members know when they hear, "This will be easy.  It shouldn't take you anytime at all," that they should be getting themselves ready for something really hard.

One of the jobs of a leader is to help the team define the nature of the work that needs to be done. Often it's not as easy as it might look at first.  If you're the leader, you can raise the chances of longer term success by raising the questions that clarify the goals, the roles and responsibilities, the plans and processes for the work and the norms that define how everyone will work together.

What questions do you think need to be asked at the beginning of a complex endeavor?