Understanding, Trust, and Transparency are Three Keys to Success
By Brian Dailey
I recently finished David McCullough's "The Path Between The Seas," an overview of the planning and construction of the Panama Canal. The scale of the human effort put into this project is incomprehensible, but there is much to be learned from it about leadership, organizational alignment, and the importance of communication.
One way to think about alignment and communication is partnership. In the lead up to the construction of the canal, William Gorgas was sent to Panama to deal with the problem of malaria and yellow fever. At the turn of the 20th century, many were still skeptical of the connection between these diseases and mosquitoes. When Gorgas tried to advocate for resources to reduce the mosquito population, he was constantly met with resistance and skepticism. Even though it was his job to reduce the tropical diseases that ravaged the canal worker population, he was unable to do so because his peers viewed him as a challenge to be overcome, not a partner in the construction of the canal.
The first Chief Engineer of the canal, John Wallace, saw Gorgas as an annoyance. As an engineer, he was concentrating on "making the dirt fly" and did not consider Gorgas's medical background to be helpful with this effort. It wasn't until John Stevens became Chief Engineer that Gorgas was taken seriously. Stevens viewed Gorgas as a partner in a humanitarian effort. Once Gorgas was given the requested resources he was able to quickly eliminate cases of yellow fever.
Partnership—among individuals, departments, and other organizations—is pivotal to the success of any venture, whether it's placing a new outpatient clinic or connecting the Pacific to the Atlantic over fifty miles of mosquito-infested jungle. So how do we cultivate partnerships?