I have this peculiar habit. If I see a foreign object on the floor or carpet, I stop to pick it up. If there is a crooked picture hanging on the wall, I stop and straighten it. If there is something out of place, I can't help but try to correct it. Do you have this same "sickness?" Well it could be attributed to a certain type of personality trait but I have always looked at it as much more than that.
This story about Ann Elizabeth Dunwoody, a retired general of the United States Army really rings true with me. Not only does Dunwoody have the distinction of being the first women in U.S. military and uniformed service history to achieve a four-star officer rank but she is also a trailblazer and strong leader.
Listen to this quote from General Dunwoody's book, "A Higher Standard":
“Far too often we let little things slide. But just turn on the news and listen as the anchors lament an auto-part defect leading to deaths and multibillion-dollar recalls or a small leak in a gas pipeline causing an explosion that endangers wildlife. Recognizing when something is wrong, big or small, and holding people accountable can save industries billions and citizens their lives. Sergeant Bowen instilled in me instantly that if you do walk by a mistake, then you just set a new, lower standard.” —General Ann Dunwoody, A Higher Standard
In her book, General Ann Dunwoody goes on to tell the story about how one day she was walking down the street when she saw a soldier in uniform walking with his hands in his pockets. Anyone who’s spent time in the military knows that this is a big no-no. Dunwoody could have literally walked by the mistake and not addressed it. It’s something small, it wasn’t impacting anyone at the time, and the kid probably just forgot. It wasn’t anything overtly heinous. As a general, though, she knew that if she didn’t correct the error, she would be, by the sin of omission, setting a new lower standard for that soldier. So rather than letting it slide, she approached him, kindly addressed the problem (rather than yelling at and demeaning the young guy), and reinforced the ideas of discipline and attention to detail.
Since then, General Dunwoody has used the phrase “never walk by a mistake” as one of her guiding principles.
Learn to apply this principle in your life and your organization and you will be assured of not setting a new "lower standard."
- Eddie Rivero