I have a deep personal interest in the Vietnam war. People I knew died there. Lessons can be learned from studying it.
Recently I watched “The Vietman War”, an excellent, honest, raw, and unvarnished documentary of the Viet Nam war by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The documentary examines the leadership mistakes that led to one of the greatest tragedies in our history.
Secretary of State Robert McNamara, a former Ford executive, used measurements and data to strategize the direction of the war. The one measure he missed was the feelings of the people. Each time the data showed to bomb and destroy the Viet Nam farmer’s homes to eradicate the Viet Cong. What the data did not measure is the emotional reaction of the people for this strategy.
A poignant and painful lesson for any leader is to “remember feelings.”
If McNamara had thought about the feelings of the people, he and the other leaders would have realized the more they destroyed the hamlets the angrier people became. Their anger created an openness to the promises of the Viet Cong. McNamara’s strategy ballooned instead of decreasing the number of men and women joining the Viet Cong.
The lesson is to ask “What will be the feelings of the people this strategy will impact? Will those feelings help or hinder the achievement of the strategy?” The answer may make the difference between success and failure.