Sherman and Kilpatrick


Do you have any "damned fools" working for you in your practices or departments? I would venture to guess that many bosses fire employees who don't shape up (unless they have tenure). This note is about one boss who did not follow that pattern.

In 1864, William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War major general who famously opined that "War is hell," led his 60,000-man force from Atlanta to Charleston in his "march to the sea." He wanted to bring the brutal reality of war to the heart of the Confederacy. In an unprecedented maneuver, without supply lines or the ability to communicate with the rest of the Union forces, he had his army live off the land while destroying Southern railways, factories, and agricultural stores.

Most of the military-age men of Georgia were elsewhere, fighting in Southern armies. But Sherman's troops were harassed by a Southern cavalry force. To counter that force, Sherman relied on his own cavalry, led by Gen. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick.

Sherman was aware of all of Kilpatrick's deficiencies and must have been tempted to replace him. Instead, however, Sherman assigned him to protect his large columns from enemy cavalry.

Regarding the business world, lately I have been reading in newspapers and hearing on public radio stories about "jerks in the office." Should salespeople who are rainmakers, bringing in many more orders and customers than the typical employee, be tolerated even though they are big jerks? According to the analysis on public radio, the big bucks brought in by highly performing jerks often are just eaten up by the costs of high staff turnover (requiring time and dollars for recruitment and training of new staff), human resources staff time to deal with grievances from the unhappy co-workers of the jerks, and lawsuits related to harassment and other problems caused by the jerks. Also, those tolerating a real jerk at work run the risk of having other employees decide to follow the jerk's lead, because they conclude that bad behavior is tolerated and rewarded.

Sherman calculated that Kilpatrick, "damned fool" though he be, was worth keeping because he could deal with the Confederate cavalry effectively. Times were different then, of course; I doubt there were lawsuits filed for hostile workplace environments in the U.S. military of the 1860s.

History proved Sherman made the right decision, but now it's the 21st century. Let's pretend that you are Dr. Sherman, running a large ophthalmology practice (Sherman and Kilpatrick LLC) or department. Your junior colleague, Dr. Kilpatrick, is causing lots of trouble but is extremely talented in some area (surgery, practice-building, or some other area). Do you keep the jerk, spending your time smoothing the ruffled feathers and dealing with the many problems he or she causes, or do you fire the damned fool?

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