Posts Tagged ‘military’

5 Things I Learned Flying a Desk

November 22, 2011 9 comments

Leadership staffMy first real job as an Army Aviator was as a junior staff officer in an Attack Helicopter Battalion. Instead of helicopters and soldiers I was given projects and paperwork. Instead of employing combat power, I was employing PowerPoint.

My turn in the cockpit would come—and it would go—but the lessons I learned in that first staff job have stuck with me to this day. Here are 5 things I learned early on:

1. The BLUF Principle. BLUF stands for “Bottom Line Up Front.” Every communication (e.g. memo, report, message, etc.) should start with what’s most important. Forget the structure they taught you in English class, get to the point, then—once you have their attention—share the pertinent background, analysis, and exposition.

2. Execution trumps planning. A poor plan executed brilliantly is always better than a brilliant plan executed poorly. As a planner, don’t go for a brilliant plan. Instead, set people up for brilliant execution. Often that means creating a simple, elegant plan that’s easy to understand, easy to communicate and easy to believe in.

3. Leaders are everywhere. Your best leaders aren’t necessarily the ones getting the most out of people on the front line. They may be the ones in the back room helping part-timers understand how the mundane and seemingly inconsequential tasks they perform everyday help ensure the success of the entire organization.

4. Don’t sit on information. The longer you take to process and pass on information—any information—the less time everyone down the line has to think, plan and act. Information is the fuel of informed decisions, do everything you can to maximize the time decision makers have with critical data.

5. Those bastards at Squad HQ. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at in an organization, the folks at the next higher level will seem like incompetent idiots who only exist to make your job—and life—miserable. Get over it. Assume positive intent and give them the benefit of the doubt. Make time with them face to face on a regular basis to have open and honest discussions.

What did you learn from working on a staff?

5 Things You Could Learn from Military Leaders

November 14, 2011 18 comments

VeteransI was stunned to learn that the unemployment rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is up to 12.1%. That’s more than 3% higher than the national average. The more I looked into it, the more misconceptions I discovered employers had about military experience.

A few weeks ago, Mark Norton, my friend and coworker at McKinney Rogers, asked me a great question. He was preparing a speech to a group of Japanese businessmen in Tokyo and asked me which aspects of military leadership I thought were most applicable to business leaders.

I came up with four things on the spot that I learned in the Army that I’ve seen lacking in the corporate and non-profit worlds. I’ve since added one more. Here they are:

1. Develop Junior Leaders. Junior officers and NCOs win today’s battles. Developing their judgment and empowering them to take initiative enables decentralized execution—which gives organizations the agility needed to operate in highly complex, rapidly changing environments (sound familiar?).

2. Leverage “Commanders Intent.” As Ike said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” Understanding the leader’s intent—her purpose, key outcomes, and defined endstate—empowers individuals and teams to adapt, improvise, and succeed.

3. Task Organize. Missions and teams are not all created equal. Form specific teams to achieve specific outcomes. Establish universal standards and train people to operate globally in different multifunctional teams.

4. Use your Operators as Trainers. In the military, training falls under operations—not HR. Operators understand what skills the field needs, and they’re the natural choice to teach those skills. Human Resources tracks and records individual progress, but never delivers or resources training.

5. Focus on “Mission first, People always.” The forced choice between making your numbers or caring for your direct reports is a false dichotomy. Taking care of your people is taking care of business. Likewise, taking care of business is taking care of people.

Don’t assume that a veteran’s experience is void of business relevance. There are exceptions of course, but the vast majority of veterans have learned to get results by working hard, thinking creatively, and taking care of people.

I don’t know about you, but I’d take someone like that on my team any day.

What other aspects of military leadership do you think would benefit business leaders?

The Servant Dictator

September 26, 2011 8 comments
servant leader


600 years before the Roman Empire ruled from the moors of Britain to the sands of Egypt, it’s predecessor, the Roman Republic, was almost destroyed. In 458 B.C. The neighboring Aequians attacked Rome—and the army sent to defend the fledgling city-state quickly found itself surrounded.

The city panicked. The Senate decided to appoint a strong leader with absolute power—a dictator—for a 6-month term. They chose Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus—a disgraced, bankrupted ex-politician who was forced to work his own farm west of the city.

Cincinnatus accepted the dictatorship and sprang into action. In a single day he raised, outfitted, and organized an army consisting of every able-bodied man in the city. He marched the army out of the city, rescued the besieged Romans, and defeated the Aequians at the Battle of Mons Algidus. Then, after returning to Rome in triumph, he did the most unexpected thing.

He resigned as dictator and returned to his farm.

Think of all Cincinnatus could have done with absolute power. Exacting revenge on his opponents in the Senate. Advancing this political agendas and causes. Regaining his social and economic status. But Cincinnatus saw his position as a service, not an opportunity.

All too often Servant Leadership is associated with being meek, democratic, or soft. Cincinnatus, the Servant Dictator, the reluctant—but ruthless—warrior, shatters all such notions. Servant Leadership is deeper than a style or approach—it’s a belief, a different way of looking at the whole concept of authority.

What does “servant leadership” mean to you?

To Change Or Not To Change…

August 30, 2011 1 comment

Azimuth Check

One of the toughest decisions a leader has to to make at any given moment is whether to stay the course or make a change.

I’ve heard plenty of stories about strong leaders who stayed the course—through distractions, trials and temptations—and won the victory in the end. Unfortunately, I’ve heard just as many stories of leaders who kept doing what they were doing only to be surpassed by more agile competitors who adapted to change quicker than they could.

So how do you know the difference between a challenge to be taken in stride and a challenge that demands you to change your plans?

The key is to keep focused on your purpose, not just your plan.

While none of us can see the future, we can all keep our eyes on what’s important—on the reason why we are doing whatever it is we are doing. That “Why” can help us answer any question—be it strategic, tactical or anything in between.

If a challenge makes the journey more painful or uncomfortable, but doesn’t endanger the fulfillment of your purpose, then suck it up. However, if a new challenge significantly hinders your purpose, adjust your plan immediately.

How do you choose between sticking to your guns or changing things up?

How to Prepare for Poor Communication

August 23, 2011 1 comment

Leader Development

Last week I visited the Pea Ridge National Military Park where 26,000 soldiers fought to decide the fate of Missouri during the Civil War. The park is the most intact Civil War Battlefield in the country—if you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit.

I’ve toured quite a few battlefields and I’m amazed at how many times poor communication is cited as one of the contributing factors to a defeat. Pea Ridge is no exception.

Usually, I respond with a renewed appreciation for the importance of good communication, but last week I gleaned a new insight from this reoccurring theme.

I realized that poor communication is inevitable—in spite of all of the books, blogs, and classes. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the power of communicating well as a leader. I’m just saying that even when you’ve done everything you can, misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and missed messages will still plague your projects.

So, if some degree of poor communication is unavoidable, how do you prepare for it? Here are five ways to create a team that can operate effectively in the fog of war:

1. Start with Clarity. The inevitability of poor communication is no excuse for poor communication on your part. Just as in a game of telephone—where you know your original message will be mangled along the way—your best bet is to start with clear and simple statements. Do everything in your power to help others understand; make it difficult for them to go astray.

2. Train your People. The purpose of training is to give people the skills they need to act independently with confidence. As part of your training, practice performing in an environment where communication is garbled or non-existent. If your people learn to perform in an environment of simulated ambiguity, they’ll be much better prepared for the real world.

3. Foster Initiative. It isn’t enough to give people confidence in their own abilities, you must also give them permission to use them. You must encourage and reward their choice to act on their own. Only then will your people be effective in situations where orders are unclear and rapid decisions are required.

4. Encourage Positive Assumptions. In organizations where people are well-trained and initiative is cultivated, people know what to expect from their counterparts. Encouraging your team to assume positive intent with each other can serve to quickly mitigate any negative emotions ignited by unclear or incomplete communications.

5. Decentralize your Execution. Finally, after issuing clear guidance, equipping your people, encouraging initiative and reinforcing positive intent, you can release central control of operations and delegate decision-making down to the lowest level. This creates an agile and responsive organization that can quickly outmaneuver the competition to gain the advantage.

How do you prepare for poor communication?

How to Focus Your Main Effort

August 9, 2011 10 comments

leadership focusEvery failure can be traced back to one thing: poor focus.

Businesses stop focusing on the customer. Others lose sight of their values or purpose. Still others try to advance in too many directions at once. It’s the same with people. Relationships, dreams and pursuits fail because we can’t keep our eyes on the things that truly matter.

Military doctrine has a device for dealing with distraction. It’s the concept of the Main Effort. In every military mission, the commander designates several supporting efforts and one main effort—that part of the operation that must succeed for the overall mission to be successful.

The main effort has 3 characteristics, it’s…

1. Success-bound. The main effort is what you bet everything on, the one thing that everything hinges on. Every other aspect of your plan could fail, but if you’re successful in your main effort, you’ve succeeded. Likewise, if you succeed on every other front, but fail to accomplish your main effort, then the whole operation was a failure.

2. Singular. There can only be one main effort. It is the priority. Force yourself to find this one single point of victory. The clearer you are about your main effort, the more confidence your team will have in making decisions and executing. Likewise, the more vague you are about what’s truly important, the more hesitant and divided your team will be.

3. Supported. The main effort is the number one show in town. Everyone and everything else exists to make it successful. If you have an activity that isn’t directly or indirectly supporting the main effort, stop it. It’s wasting resources that aren’t contributing to success.

I find that if I can identify and communicate my main effort in any endeavor it keeps me and those around me focused on the right things.

What’s your main effort today?

The Power of Perspective

June 6, 2011 6 comments

leading perspectiveAt 6:35am on June 6, 1944 the first Allied soldiers stepped ashore at Omaha Beach. They were instantly showered with enemy fire raining down on them from fortified positions carved into the bluffs above. The hail of machine gun and artillery fire would continue unabated for hours as wave after wave of ships bottled up by underwater obstacles poured soldiers into the kill zone.

Among those first soldiers were elements of the 16th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel George Taylor. When Taylor arrived on the beach around 8:00am, he found remnants of his battle-hardened regiment in total confusion. With most of their leaders killed or incapacitated, those who had survived the first two hours were pinned down by the relentless enemy fire.

The invasion of Europe had stalled just seven yards in.

Seeing thousands of leaderless soldiers hunkering down behind the seawall or whatever cover they could find, Taylor realized this was a tipping point. Exposing himself to the deadly fire, he moved up and down the line finding officers, gathering teams together, and assigning new objectives. But what do you say to a man to make him face that kind of mortal danger?

Colonel Taylor simply put things in perspective:

There are only two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here!

Under Taylor’s leadership, the 16th Infantry advanced over 200 yards inland, neutralized the German strongpoints, repelled counter-attacks and were instrumental in consolidating the Allied beachhead on Omaha.