Monday, May 10, 2010

Leadership Under Pressure

Beautiful weekend. Cool enough to plant the vegetable garden. I am feeling healthy. Must be the vitamins. Life is good.

I read a book by Colonel Bob Stewart, Leadership Under Pressure - Tactics from the Front Lines.

Stewart is an ex-politician as well as an ex-solider. He served in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. The life and the death decision's he made are literally life and death unlike the one's I made in business which simply seem like life and death.

He starts with a section on the needs of leadership focusing on three areas: the task, the team and the individual. He points out that there are difference's in requirements and priorities in each of these and the three need to work closer together to achieve their ends.

He talked of being in indeterminate situations where it wasn't clear what the mission was and talked about having clear direction and mission makes for high effectiveness. The same lesson but clearly applying in any business situation.

He lists the principals of war:

1-Selection and maintenance of the aim.
2-Concentration of force. Engage the enemy's weakness with your strength.
3-Economy of effort. Do not waste precious resources.
4-Maintenance of morale. Keep spirits up in your team.
5-Offensive action. Maintain tempo by attacking your opponent.
6-Flexibility. Be prepared for the unexpected and deal with it.
7-Cooperation. Ensure that all parts of the team work in unison to achieve the aim.
8-Security. Keep your secrets just that.
9-Surprise. Ensure your opposition knows nothing of your plans until it is too late.
10-Sustainability. Maintain your capability to operate.

These almost all sound like business rules.

There is a good quote on time and procrastination from Sir Stuart Rose, Chief Executive of Mark & Spencer: Don't do tomorrow what you could today. Quite often you know what you want to do, instinctively or through experience. Don't spend too long analyzing and checking it when you should actually just get on with it. It doesn't matter what business you are in today, they are all so fast moving that time is advantage or money.

There was a section on business creativity: A major executive responsibility is to challenge conventional wisdom in a search for better ways to achieve ends. If leaders do not continually look for different ways to do business then they will get stale or lose their edge.

Surely in this respect business is like warfare-the best side will win in the end. Everyone in a company should be positively encouraged to make suggestions that improve any aspect of business, be it production, marketing, selling, human resources or whatever. I know many companies take positive steps, such as financial rewards, to promote the search for new ideas. But in the truth there is no formula or tool that can really help innovation. That is simply not possible. Invention is very human. No machine has yet been able to innovate in the way a human mind can.

In business, as in the military, the best chance of innovating is to employ good people who are quite prepared to try something different.

I used to think that military leadership differed dramatically from non-military leadership and the military leadership is very title oriented and autocratic where I believe the best leadership in business tends to be consensus building a non autocratic.

I've met several senior military leaders and I've seen that despite the command and control structure they tend not to be autocrats and tend to rely on general leadership principals as much as any one in business.

I count General Rick Hillier as one of my friends and even the short interactions I had with him have convinced me that great military leaders are great leaders in general.


At 10:01 PM, Anonymous TheSEOCEO said...

Great post, I love the quote about just doing it. All too often we don't trust our gut, when we start listening to our gut and instincts, wonderful things start happening. When we second guess every decision, nothing will ever be accomplished.

I'd rather launch a project at 80% completion to get things rolling rather than stalling to PERFECTLY complete 100%.

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Landon Creasy said...

Great post Jim - really highlights the fact that leadership concepts don't just belong to any one organization or culture. Every organization or group experiences pressure at some point. Not all pressures are life and death, but they sure can feel that way.

Are you familiar with high reliability organizations (HRO)at all? They are characterized by the consequence of failure being measured in lives or huge amounts or money. Or both. Trauma centres, submarines, NASA's control centre - these are examples where pressure can suddenly ramp up.

As a serving officer in the Canadian Forces, I love the reference to General Hillier...

Landon Creasy

At 12:54 AM, Blogger Beyond Horizons said...

Great post!
I have been a part of the Indian Navy for a good part of my life, and since then, I have forayed into the field of corporate training. So I can completely understand how the strategies and approach used by the Armed Forces, can apply in the business world.
Team work is of utmost importance on the field. And this is just as true of the business world. Generating commitment,dedication and a sense of trust is as important in an organization, as it is in the battlefield.
- Girish (


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