Athens lost the second Peloponnesian war.
This pinnacle of democracy, freedom, and culture lost a war they could have won after twenty-seven years of fighting. There are numerous arguments, reasons and possibilities as to why, but here are a few contributing factors. Alone, these problems may not have caused the city’s downfall, but altogether, they just might have.
These causes are:
1) Insufficient preparation
2) Insecure leadership
3) Arrogance, not adapting to change
When the feared Spartan infantry invaded Athenian lands, Pericles ordered all citizens inside the city walls. Athens had astounding ability and funds to build temples, sanctuaries and walls. They built a vast democratic, civilized society. One of their many accomplishments was a double wall from the city to their port, so they never lost their connection to the sea.
Pericles decided that they could hold out longer than the invading army within their walls.
The Spartan army was away from home and needed to forage the countryside for supplies. The Athenians had stored food and they had access to their port, so they could get supplies as they needed. But in the heat, the sudden increase in population overwhelmed the sewers and water supply. People slept in the streets and filth was everywhere.
When the Spartans went back to their lands for the winter, the crowd of rural Athenians went back to their farmland. But the Spartans came back the next summer. This time Athens suffered even more.
When the streets were crowded, the sewers overflowing and heat suffocating, plague struck. Thousands died, bodies lined the streets, and Athens was paralyzed. Their leader for twenty years, Pericles, died. The people were despondent.
The democracy of Athens was under attack both from foreign power and by biology. The Athenian leaders had prepared for attack by building the walls, but they had not prepared for the numbers of refugees that would inhabit their city, multiple seasons in a row. There was not adequate water and infrastructure to house and keep people safe. They did not have the advantage of understanding the nature of disease, but some changes could have been made after the first season of refugees, and they weren’t.
And thousands died.
How do we get sidetracked, or invested in one thing so heavily that we overlook the problems under our noses? I have done that when I have had trouble at our office, things are a little disorganized, and I get distracted trying to put out fires. I then don’t have time to dedicate to the “Quadrant II” activities (Stephen Covey taught the important but not urgent activities are Quadrant II) that will prevent future problems. So then things get really out of hand.
Focus on the important things, prepare, but don’t be single-minded. Listen to others and to your intuition or you may miss the signs of your own plague.
(to be continued in Part 2…)
Thanks to Victor Davis Hanson’s book, A War Like No Other.
We rented the Avengers movie this weekend. I enjoyed it. It’s always nice to see a band of earthlings fight off a massive horde of aliens. Even if the earthlings are all freaks of some sort.
My wife and I were trying to decide who our favorite Avenger is. I have to go with Ironman, with Captain America a close second. I just appreciate Ironman’s unmitigated pride, and his delivery. He is also not chemically altered, pure human. Pure ego, but pure human.
They all have their strengths…and their weaknesses. They all complement one another and at the end of the day, they get the job done that Nick Fury hired them for.
I love looking at people’s strengths (check out my posts on strengths) and trying to maximize their potential.
We are hiring in our office right now and looking for a specific type of person, with specific strengths. Someone that will fill in the gaps in our team and help us get the job done. I will have them in the office for multiple interviews, and personality tests, like the DISC, Values, and possibly Strengths-Based. There’s no reason for me to hire the unknown quantity, I’ve done that before, and had to let them go shortly afterward. But not before they did damage to the existing team. I intend on finding out who this person is before they join our team and culture. One of my most important jobs as leader is to develop and then protect an excellent culture.
Just like the Avengers, right?
Wish me luck.
What is your process for hiring?
I saw Larry the cowboy again this last week. He attends my church, so I usually see him on Sundays. But seeing him this time reminded me of some more lessons he shared with me on horsemanship, and leadership.
He told me that horses, like people, need a few things to be effective companions and good workers.
Security. A safe place. Somewhere they can be comfortable and not feel harassed or in danger.
Friendship. Someone to talk to and get to know outside of the professional sphere.
A Leader. Not being afraid of confrontation. Knowing where you want to go and sharing that.
He also described one way he uses Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits in leading and rehabilitating his horses. He told me that he never appreciated the Seven Habits until he thought one day about his horses and how he could use it with them.
He said to First Seek to Understand. Before acting on a certain behavior, find out why, or what is causing the behavior. And then you can address the source, and not just the symptom.
Lastly, he said something that showed to me his passion for his profession. He said that a horse and a man are the ultimate team. They were meant to work together. They complement each other’s strengths and buoy up the weaknesses.
In summary, I learned from him that if I can provide security, friendship and be a leader, my team will be happy. If I seek to understand before I intervene, I will more likely help than hurt. And if the right team comes together, they can be…
I had an experience that allowed me to learn first hand how Not to receive delegation. I am 100% responsible for not addressing this up front, and I was as disappointed as anyone else with the results.
I dropped the ball for someone this summer. I was asked to organize a fund-raiser luncheon in a couple of months. We had a meeting with four of us and some assignments were made. The person in charge was going to make some contacts and get back to me.
I waited to hear from him. I didn’t move forward when I didn’t hear back. I didn’t get invitations out in time, or make contact with donors in time. I didn’t get the job done. I didn’t take the initiative. Looking back, I can see that I didn’t receive specific enough instructions.
We didn’t communicate very clearly who was going to do what. I thought he was doing something that he thought I was doing. It was like two people trying to go through the doorway at the same time and neither one taking the lead, so both of us just got stuck there in the doorway of opportunity.
Regardless, I learned much from this experience and I won’t let it happen again. I found this list a few weeks later and thought how much I could have used this earlier.
5 steps to effective delegation:
1. Make the assignment
2. Let the person perform
3. Offer assistance
4. Receive report
5. Commend the positive, correct any errors
1. Make the assignment: Be specific in what you want from the person. Give them the vision for the end result you would like. What should we both see and experience when this project is finished.
2. Let the person perform: Let them know how and when you will follow-up. If you intend to check in with them every week, tell them that. That way they don’t think you are micro managing them when you call them every Friday to see how things are going.
3. Offer Assistance: Give them information on who and how to get help. If you are providing help, let them know that they can come to you. I always try to remember to over communicate when in doubt.
4. Receive their report when finished: At a specified, when the project is finished or the vision is completed, sit down together and review the results.
5. Commend the positive results, correct any errors: Use the follow-up meeting as an opportunity to break down problems and successes. Make changes for next time.
What is your best delegation failure story?
(these are steps from the book Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood part B)