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Sometimes You Have to Shoot the Mules


The classic Academy Award winning film for Best Picture, Patton, follows the exploits of the famous U.S. Army General George S. Patton during World War II.   General Patton was an extremely driven, successful, and sometimes controversial figure during his military career.   However, even most of General Patton’s  critics agree that his successes during key times and battles during World War II were a catalyst for the Allies victory against the Axis Powers in Europe.

Gen. Patton’s exploits during World War II depicted in the film range from accurate to somewhat apocryphal. One incident depicted in the film occurred during Patton’s successful campaign across Sicily. General Patton’s troops drove the Axis Powers from the island and set the stage for the invasion of Italy.     During the campaign he encountered a column of U.S. Army soldiers, vehicles and equipment that was at a standstill on the road.   The stationary soldiers were an easy target as German fighter planes began to strafe the column causing considerable damage and casualties.   Upset by the fact that the column was vulnerable to the fighters, he raced to the front of the column.   Once there, he found two mules pulling a cart who had sat down and refused to move in the middle of a bridge spanning a river gorge.   Surrounding the stubborn and immovable mules were several servicemen and their  owner.  All were engaged in unsuccessful attempts to coax these mules to their feet to move them across to the other side of the bridge thus ending the stoppage.

General Patton was incensed with the fact that these two stubborn mules had caused the Army column to stall, be exposed to enemy fire, and incur damage and casualties as a result.   He quickly assessed the situation, pulled out his revolver, shot both mules dead (to the surprise of all those around him), and ordered the troops to throw the mules’ carcasses into the river.   Thereby, allowing the military column to move forward.

What does this have to do with business, success, and legal issues?   It comes down to the concept that decisions need to be made.   As outlined in previous posts, we have highlighted examples where indecision is just as damaging (if not more so) than making the incorrect decision to begin with.   Certain decisions by nature will be difficult, but they still need to quickly and efficiently made.

A question a business will often want to ask is are there “mules” blocking your company’s road to success.   These “mules” may be an area/aspect of the business that you just cannot get off the ground to be successful, or a client that your employees spend an inordinate amount of time handling, but who does not constitute a large amount of profit.   The “mules” can also include company personnel that are just not working out no matter what you do or a marketing plan that you have invested resources into but have seen very few results.   Like the troops at the front of the column trying to coax the stubborn mules to their feet and not realizing the destruction occurring in the stalled column behind them, businesses often become too fixated on attempting to fix the problem or “make it work” and neglect to realize the actual long-term damage this continued focus is causing to the business.

Instead, the business and owner(s) should just “shoot the mules” and move on.      “Shooting the mules” in a business setting may involve ending unproductive business relationships, eliminating marketing and other strategies that are ineffective, or terminating those employees who are not part of the company’s future.     In order to be a successful business decisions need to be quickly and efficiently made. Failure to do so can have disastrous results.

© 2015 Matthew W. Harrison and Harrison Law, PLLC All Rights Reserved

This website has been prepared by Harrison Law, PLLC. for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.