Ask for permission or forgiveness?


As many of you know, one of my non-HR passions is the study of the Civil War. I have a sight I check daily on what happened on this date in Civil War history. The entry for June 16 caused me to bring up a bit of correlation to HR and management in general.

On June 16, 1862, Union General Henry Benham was defeated in an attempt to retake Charleston, SC, at the Battle of Secessionville.  The details of the battle aren’t of major importance but what happened after is what struck me.  Three days after the battle, General Benham was arrested for attacking without permission.  Huh? 

In those days, obtaining permission to take action would  have required days if not weeks in communication (remember, no iPhones or Twitter back then), various high level meetings to give the blessing to a go/no go decision and relaying the message back.  Here is a general taking initiative to exploit what he thought had been a weakness.  If he had won, it would have been a MAJOR victory for the North, taking back what was looked at as the hot bed of the Civil War and the place where it started (Fort Sumter).  Instead, he lost and got busted, never to be heard from again.  I wonder if he would have been arrested had he won?

The message to me would be no matter how you weigh risk vs reward, don’t move without permission.  How many of you can relate to this “lesson”?


2 Responses to “Ask for permission or forgiveness?”

  1. Lyn H Says:

    Yep. Can relate. Maybe fortunately my ammo is stuck with those who grant permission so I don’t fire rounds without specific directives?

  2. Jeff Williams Says:

    I think your assessment is correct, had Benham succeeded, he would have be applauded for taking the initiative. For leaders today, I think you have to understand the culture of the company you work in to help determine your approach. Great post!

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