Lead with the best version of yourself.

No Details, No Paper, and No Regrets


“I had a sort of a motto, “No details, no paper, and no regrets.” No details-don’t go about setting machine guns on different sides of bushes. That is done a damn sight better by a platoon commander.  Then, no paper. You cannot entirely do without paper, but you can get rid of quite a lot of it.  Do not have people coming to you with huge files, telling you all about it.  Make the man explain it; and if he cannot explain it, get somebody else who can. When I say “no regrets”, that is important. You do the best you can. You may have gotten it wrong; you may have lost a battle. You may even have lost a good many of your men’s lives which hurts more, but do not have regrets. Do not sit in the corner and say, “Oh, If I had only gone to the left instead of the right,” or “If I had only fought in front of the river instead of behind it.”  You have done the best you could-it hasn’t come off. All right! What’s the next problem? Get on to that. Do not sit in the corner weeping about what you might have done. No details, no paper, no regrets”

-Field Marshall Williams Slim (1891-1970)

The above quote is an excerpt from a speech given by Field Marshall Sir William Slim to CGSC in April of 1952. It was later  published in the May 1990 edition of Military Review. The article titled, Higher Command in War , is an excellent read for leaders wishing to reflect on their own leadership philosophy.  It’s also a great article to include in any leader professional development program.

11 thoughts on “No Details, No Paper, and No Regrets”

  1. I would say that “no regrets” is easer said than done. It depends on the psychological make up of the leader. Some folks can shake off a bad choice that leads to tragedy. Others will carry it with them every day for the rest I their lives. Telling the latter group to “shake it off” will have no effect. Trying to describe this problem to the former group will likely produce the same effect.

    • True that some people just cannot put regrets aside–but maybe they are not fit for the highest command.

      As for those who are insensitive to regrets, well, I don’t read Slim as saying not to understand and learn from your failures, or to not support those who suffered, but don’t let it paralyze you.

    • And other people have leaders who will thrust those regrets upon them and call it “zero defects”

  2. Great quote. I think no regrets can only come if you have learned something from the event. If you made a mistake and have not learned from it then you should have regrets. Great leaders learn from their mistakes and take those learnings into the next battle/situation.

    • I think that’s a key that is too often missed. Having on regrets does not forgetting about the past, because to forget is to repeat the same mistakes later, but to not dwell in the past and allow it to keep you from attending to immediate issues.

  3. Some of my fellow field grades, many excellent officers, always carried around meticulous and massive binders or smart books. That technique never worked for me, as the time spent building them wasn’t worth the time for the staff or myself. Focus on just a few important things (ccir – if captured in writing) and dont sweat the smaller details. But, no one wants to leave a question unanswered when a superior commander asks a question that is two or three levels down. FGOs dont need to be able to answer all of the questions just the important ones.

    As far as no regrets, id say no regrets is good but to a point. Regret makes you reflect and look inward, which is essential to growth and improvement. Some of Slims countrymen from WWI could have done with a little more regret.


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