business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Something very unusual happened at the Pentagon Monday morning, at least for those of us with no connection to the military. To make this simple, essentially nothing happened.

That may sound confusing, but think about this. The Pentagon is home to the American military, the group bearing the single largest cost in every possible way when it comes to the war on terror. The Pentagon was also the site of one of the three successful terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and no doubt there are many, many people still working in the building who were there that day and remember the explosion, fire and subsequent deaths.

So it might have been reasonable to assume that there would be some outward display of emotion the morning after the nation learned that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed. Certainly, that’s what the local news radio station in the DC area expected and, as expected, they dispatched a reporter to the Pentagon to capture that reaction.

Instead, they got something different. As rank and file Pentagon workers emerged from the Washington subway in the early morning hours they had a uniform response to questions about the killing of bin Laden: basically it was “no comment,” just more polite. The news reporter at the scene was surprised at first, but then came to admire the collective silence. It was, he said, a clear display of the discipline the Pentagon requires in times of all news, good or bad.

It made me think about how the Pentagon enforces a discipline like that. The Pentagon is home to thousands of workers - both military and civilian - and certainly it’s possible they have a rapid communication system that was activated last Sunday night to remind them to refrain from comment about the bin Laden killing.

More likely though, people who work at the Pentagon don’t need such a message. They work in a place with a clear purpose, with clear rules and clear disciplines. They understand that no matter how lofty or lowly their job; they represent people in harm’s way around the globe. And they understand that their role, no matter how mundane, is to support those troops and do nothing that could create a problem.

In other words, they knew that Monday was no time for a victory lap at the office. They knew it was time to just get to work.

The killing of bin Laden is a lesson in organizational excellence for so many reasons. I cannot image all the effort that went into this, the need for extreme secrecy and the incredible details and planning; I do know that am completely unqualified to talk about any of it.

But I can imagine the training and the clarity of message that it took for ordinary Pentagon workers to understand the importance of public silence the morning after. I think we all can and we can learn from it.

It reminds us that every person who works for us represents us every day. That even the lowest ranking person in our company impacts our image and our ability to get the job done. It reminds us that everyone needs to understand the power of common purpose and that the job only gets done when all of us give it the right effort. That takes communication, discipline and effort.

It always matters.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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