Transfer of Power

There's only one thing worse than missing a deadline. That’s making one.

Take this whole Iraqi handoff thing. It's all supposed to happen on June 30 (search). That's pretty close. It was still pretty close when we proposed it months ago. And that's the problem.

Setting deadlines too soon and setting the bar too high.

Don't get me wrong. Deadlines aren't bad per se -- if they're set well enough in advance.

John Kennedy gave himself plenty of room when he promised to land a man on the moon before the decade was out. At the time, that gave him a good eight years.

Ronald Reagan told Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." He didn't say "tear down this wall tomorrow."

Winston Churchill promised Britons would fight in the streets and in the bunkers a great Nazi enemy that would be vanquished in "due course."

Due course leaves you a lot of wiggle room. A few months does not. It leaves you no wiggle room.

And there's a certain "gotcha" to deadlines. Critics will pounce on you if you fail to meet them, or if you're having a tough time after them.

Good CEOs know deadlines serve a purpose if they're attainable goals. Like promising to boost sales by next year, not next month, or next quarter.

Better yet, better CEOs know the way to wow people isn't to show them a calendar, but to show them some resolve: A commitment to making things better, not a deadline to make your critics worse.

Imagine if Abraham Lincoln had done so 15 months into the Civil War when he was still losing. Or if George Washington tried it in the Revolutionary War when he was still flailing?

Progress is coming to Iraq. We needn't demean it by putting a stopwatch to it.

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