“The most difficult part of my work is acting without correct information on which to predicate action.”1
Those were the sentiments expressed by Major General George G. Meade, commanding general of the Union Army of the Potomac, in a letter to his wife Margaret on July 6, 1863, after the bloody battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania during the American Civil War.
Professionally Educated and Trained
Meade was an 1835 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York and a professional soldier. He left the Army in 1836 but returned to active service in 1842 as “a second lieutenant in the Corps of Topographical Engineers” and later saw service during the Mexican American War.2 At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Meade participated in the following major engagements: the Peninsula Campaign, Second Manassas, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and then Gettysburg.3 In my blog post of April 13, 2022, I wrote about training, education, and experience as it relates to decision-making.4 Meade had all three of those elements in his life.
When Meade wrote his wife on July 6, 1863, thirty-two years had passed since he entered West Point. Thirty-two years of education, training, and experience. Thirty-two years of hard service in remote parts of the country including combat duty in two wars. Yet with all his experience, Meade acknowledged the difficulty of making decisions with missing information, but he still made decisions. Decisions that led to the defeat of General Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg in 1863
More to the Story
There is much more to the story of Major General George G. Meade and the difficulties he faced during the Gettysburg Campaign, but we can learn from his experience. Meade made decisions without all the information, but what about you? Can you make decisions without all the information, or do you get bogged down in endless hours of research hoping the right answer magically appears before you? This is nothing more than analysis paralysis driven by fear of making the wrong decision.
I Can Help
I have been studying decision-making and situational awareness since 2007 and authored two research papers on the subject when I was a student in the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. As a former battalion chief and incident commander, I know a thing or two about making decisions and I can help you and your team become better leaders and decision-makers.
1Kent Masterson Brown, Meade at Gettysburg, A Study in Command, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2021), 337
2Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue, Lives of the Union Commanders, (Baton Rouge, LA: The Louisiana State University Press, 1992), 316