Gen. Marshall’s two words of advice

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

As World War II came to an end, it was clear that Europe wouldn’t be able to rebuild on its own. For Secretary of State George Marshall, it was critical that the West come up with a plan to help Europe rebuild before it fell under the influence of the Soviet Union.

Marshall conveyed the sense of urgency with these words, “The patient was sinking while the doctors deliberate.”

So, in April 1947, Marshall told the State Department’s director of policy planning, George Kennan, to get his team together and come up with an economic relief plan for Europe.

He gave Kennan two weeks.

As work began, Kennan’s team was met with plenty of pessimistic remarks by naysayers. “The problem we were told was too great,” says Kennan, “the resources were not there; the Europeans would never consent to take the initiative; whatever help we might be able to offer would merely sink into the sands.”

Kennan went to his boss in search of instructions, asking, what would you advise?

To his credit, Marshall didn’t become bogged down in telling Kennan how to do his job. But he did offer “two deeply serious and unforgettable words,” says Kennan. “Avoid trivia.”

Becoming derailed by trivia is a common side effect when dealing with weighty matters. The trivia can cause you to become sidetracked, doubtful or fatalistic. But keep your focus on what’s worthwhile.

Kennan’s team got the job done. The plan would later be called the Marshall Plan.

— Adapted from “Avoid Trivia,” Leading Blog.

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