Being Strategic About Lent

Convergence of the universe, February 10, 2013 example:

We’re heading into a week with Mardi Gras and Lent, and then Valentine’s Day, which will feature a visit to my campus from the UW Colleges Chancellor and Provost.

Really feels like the universe got its dates mixed up. Shouldn’t it be Mardi Gras, Valentine’s, and THEN Lent? I would say, in general, prolonged contact with administrators makes me feel Lenten. (I mean that in the sweetest possible way, of course.)

So take that week of big dates and mash it up with a book I’m reading, The Generals, by Thomas Ricks (“One of Ricks’s strengths is that his judgments are nuanced” says one reviewer. I’ll say. I bought two copies of the book as a “family book club” selection–my parents and my husband and I are making our way through it.)

So then take that book and those dates and layer them on top of my recent attempts to make good use of Things and a Sunday meeting, and here’s what we get:

I’m feeling the need to be my own General Patton, my own Ike, my own General George C. Marshall, and be strategic about how I’m spending my time, supremely allying my short-term goals with my long-term goals and the available hours.

Here are the quotes I’m finding stunning this morning:

According to Ricks, “Marshall understood that Eisenhower had a talent for implementing strategy. And that job, Marshall believed, was more difficult than designing it. ‘There’s nothing so profound in the logic of the thing….But the execution of it, that’s another matter.'”

Interestingly, until I typed it, I was misreading this as “nothing so profound AS the logic of the thing,” which is telling, since I LOVE, love, love designing plans, so of course I’d be biased in their favor.

When Marshall met with Eisenhower right after Pearl Harbor , he gave him a test, saying, “Look, there are two things we have got to do. We have to to do our best in the Pacific and we’ve got to win this whole war. Now, how are we going to do it? Now, that is going to be your problem.” Ricks presents the next part in an understated way that emphasizes the drama:

“‘Give me a few hours,’ Eisenhower requested.”

Can you imagine? Mind-blowing.

Ricks quotes Eisenhower repeatedly from Ike’s memoirs (which I now very much want to read), here matching a quote from Ike to the incredible test above, “I loved to do that kind of work” Ike wrote. “Practical problems have always been my equivalent of crossword puzzles.”

According to Ricks, the thing Ike was amazingly good at was prioritizing.

Which is something I’m amazingly bad at sometimes. So I want to learn from this:

“Prioritizing tends to be a forgotten aspect of strategy. The art of strategy is foremost not about how to do something but about what to do. In other words, the first problem is to determine what the real problem is. There are many aspects to any given problem, the strategist must sort through them and determine its essence, for there lies the key to its solution. Eisenhower clearly understood the need to separate the essential from the merely important.”

Wowie, zowie. That’s my task: separating the essential from the merely important. To some extent, this echoes other works I’ve read, such as Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which I read as a birthday present TO my father one year. I was broke since his birthday is in September (and academics don’t get their first paycheck until October–it took me a lot of years to figure out how NOT to be broke in September), so I pledged to read books he’d been recommending.  I was pleasantly surprised by Covey’s book.

But somehow reading about these things in the context of WWII seems really compelling to me right now, and wow–I had no idea how HUGE George Marshall was in effecting our success.

I enjoyed the chapter on Patton, about whom Ricks says, “The blustery Patton behaved in ways that would have gotten other officers relieved, but he was kept on because he was seen, accurately, as a man of unusual flaws and exceptional strengths.”  And I’m now on the chapter about Mark Clark, who, according to Ricks, “was perhaps, never quite bad enough to relieve but not quite good enough to admire.” That’s damning.

So I’m summoning my inner General Marshall to appoint my inner Ike to implement my plan and keep my inner Patton under control.

General Patton, from Flickr Creative Commons, attr. to clif1066

General Patton, from Flickr Creative Commons, attr. to clif1066

Forward, march!

Party on Mardi Gras.  Express love on Valentine’s Day. Give nothing up for Lent; instead add IN supreme focus on prioritizing.

Left-right-left-right-left-right (doo wah diddy diddy dum diddy doo).

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