Dealing with an Incompetent Staff? Lincoln’s been there before.




Abraham Lincoln fired many generals, until he found the right one to lead the Union Army, Ulysses S. Grant. So sometime it takes a lot of turnover to find the right person to fill a key position.


Furthermore sometimes the right person might be less than perfect. He or she might, for example, drink too much scotch or smoke too many cigars, as did General Grant, or have far worse qualities. The important thing, though, is that he or she is the right person to get the job done — whether it involves winning the Civil War or landing a new contract.


Sometimes, the best one can do is to work with the staff one has, imperfect though they may be. A case in point is Lincoln’s great frustration with Major General George G. Meade. Lincoln wrote a letter to Meade in which he expressed his gratitude to Meade for having

been successful at Gettysburg. But Lincoln was outraged that when the Confederate Army, led by General Lee, retreated that the Meade didn’t pursue them. Lincoln wrote that had Meade pursued Lee and his army that Meade could have defeated the Confederacy and ended the Civil War. Lincoln feared that the Civil War might instead drag on for years.


The amazing thing is that Lincoln wrote the letter, but never mailed it to General Meade. Perhaps he reasoned, “What good would it really do?” The lesson here is to be circumspect in offering criticism, reprimands and negative comments to employees, indeed to anyone — family, friends, etc. Will one’s letter really improve matters or is one simply acting out of anger and frustration? Alas, with the advent of e-mail, it’s all too easy to click on the “send” button. That’s why it’s often better to put the e-mail aside for a day or two.


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