Leadership Week: Part 5, Leading Yourself First

Thomas Fox

Compliance Evangelist

Today, I conclude my exploration of several aspect of leadership that every Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) can utilize by focusing on the decision-making process that General Dwight Eisenhower used around the one factor he could not control around the D-Day invasion – the weather.

The story has been well told many times. According to This Day in History, in early June, 1944, some 156,000 allied troops, were marshalled on the southern coast of England, “poised to travel by ship or plane over the English Channel to attack the German army dug in at Normandy, France, on June 5. Eisenhower had a window of only four days of decent weather in which an invasion would be possible. When bad weather hit the channel on June 4, Eisenhower wrestled with the idea of postponing Operation Overlord. Weather conditions were predicted to worsen over the next two weeks and he had thousands of personnel and thousands of tons of supplies that were in his words, hanging on the end of a limb. After a promising but cautious report from his meteorologist.” After a few minutes of reflection, Eisenhower told his staff, “I am quite positive that the order must be given.” June 6, 1944 became forever known as D-Day.

Yet it was Eisenhower’s lengthy decision making process which allowed him to synthesize the facts and move to a correct decision quickly and decisively. Eisenhower himself has been quoted as saying “Make big decisions in the calm”. In a book by Raymond M. Kethledge and Michael S. Erwin, entitled Lead Yourself First, they call this process “analytical clarity”. It is this process which I believe can be useful for any or CCO faced with a decision which allows “the breaking down of complexity to a single point of clarity.” It requires a CCO to “identify as clearly and precisely as he can, the goal he seeks to achieve or problem he seeks to solve.” This type of process is particularly well suited to today’s information overloaded business world where there may literally be thousands of inputs and data points.

Analytical clarity allows a CCO “to focus clearly and specifically, on the key variable that will determine whether a decision brings success or failure.” It is through identification of this key variable which can lead to analytical clarity. Once you have focused on the key variable, you are in the best position to determine in which direction the variable will go.

Interestingly one of the techniques Eisenhower used to help crystalize his thinking was to write himself Memoranda. His son John Eisenhower was quoted that “throughout his life, my father put many of this thoughts on paper, partly for the information of others but even more to clarify thoughts in his own mind.” Eisenhower took the time and energy to use this creative practice for distilling his thinking throughout his military career. The historian Stephen Ambrose has said, “one of Eisenhower’s characteristics was his desire to simplify. Faced with a complex situation, he usually tried to separate it into its essentials, extract a principal point, then make that point his guiding star for decisions.” For the final decision on when to go, Eisenhower had distilled the issue down to “we must go unless there is a real and very serious deterioration in the weather.”

The meteorologist Group Captain James Martin Stagg had initially predicted clear skies for June 5. However, on the morning of June 4, he reported an incoming storm over the Irish Sea which had the “lowest barometric pressures ever recorded that century around the British Isles in June.” In other words, June 5 was going to be one very bad weather day. However, at their 9:30 p.m. meeting, Stagg had indicated he saw a break in the weather later that evening and through the day of June 6th. Further, this window would only be open for 36 hours or so, as Stagg believed stormy weather would reappear over the channel on June 7. On the morning of June 5, after a 4 AM staff meeting, Eisenhower considered his decision one more time and gave his final order Let’s go.

This process for analytical clarity can be a powerful tool for any CCO. It requires discipline and structure in your decision-making process. Indeed, it is the rigor in the process which makes it so powerful. However, Kethledge and Erwin note there is one other requirement which may be particularly prescient for the CCO, “because of its difficulty, and its glacial pace—it is best done, and perhaps only done, in solitude.

Consider the decision by a CCO about an initiative, particularly involving a technological change. You will begin with a large amount of often disparate information. The first step is to logically sort the information by considering such questions as the changes it will require to your current compliance infrastructure, how it will impact related systems such as IT and data governance issues, then what will be the use by or preferences of your compliance customer base; i.e. your employees. Your next step is to put together “a series of logical premises” which begins “with certain facts that are known or likely to exist.” You then proceed to “certain rules or principles” such as the initiative must be come in at a certain cost, be a date certain or under certain legal or corporate compliance standards. This process should lead to a distillation of information “which at first may seemed important, is in fact immaterial” as it does not impact the decision in either way. This allows you to focus on the key variable which will determine whether the decision “brings failure or success.”

Any CCO is going to make multiple, crucial decisions. Fortunately, they will not be as critical as the decision made by Eisenhower to go on June 6th. Yet the same skills and techniques he brought to bear can be used by you if you are faced with a decision with multiple source inputs and data. Eisenhower’s technique of memo writing and reflection are techniques you can use going forward which, at the end of the day, will make your company stronger.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series on leadership lessons for the CCO. You should think about using some of these techniques as you navigate the return to work scenarios that many companies are considering and the new risk profiles it may bring to your organization.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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