Saturday, April 08, 2006

Blood and Leadership

There's a new leadership book out that our management has fallen in love with. Most of the upper-level management has read it and they recommend it and even have several copies to hand out. 1) Highly recommended, 2) will have an influence on my supervisors and 3) free... definitely need to read it.

The Captain asked what I thought of it. "Another book written by a manager who thinks he's a leader," I said.

That's not exactly true. There are a lot of leadership books out there that I have a hard time connecting with. Why? There's good stuff in this book, some stuff I will use. Some weaknesses that I'd attributed to circumstance or environment that are actually internal and controllable, changeable (different perspectives help me to see the blind spots). Why my personal disconnect? Opposition and stakes?

When Lee Iacocca turned Chrysler around, who really wanted him to fail? Even the union, who too often is at war with management, didn't want all those jobs and their reason for the union's existence to disappear. The government probably wanted Iacocca humiliated and begging, wanted one of the most outspoken critics of government intervention in business to be seen begging for government help... but no one in the government wanted to lose the tax base or for those jobs to disappear. Who was the enemy?

Even Churchill and Lincoln (who the author uses a lot) who definitely had enemies and led a state at war, didn't really deal with the enemies. They dealt with the government and the press and the electorate. They inspired people who wanted to be inspired and led people who wanted to survive and maintain their way of life. The people who faced the opposition, who dealt with people trying to kill them, were the soldiers. The people who led the soldiers were the NCOs and the low-level officers who were tasked with taking the grand strategy and making it a reality in the forests and the swamps and the snow. The men who gave those orders had to be loud enough and close enough to be heard over the deafening roar of the artillery and the screaming of the wounded. Close enough to really see and to risk along with their men.

The stakes, too. Market share? I know it's important globally, but this is what I imagine: "In order to save the company, we have to implement my plan. If we make an error, if I've made an error, we stand to lose 20% of the market share and the company will go under. Are you with me?" How does that compare to, "Team, we've lost the eastside facility. Four hostages that we know of, about 170 threats. Here's the tactical plan. We're undermanned for this mission but time is critical. Four lives on the line now, plus us if anything screws up. If anybody wants to opt out, go now." (Caveat- no one in this business would actually make a speech like that or go running into a mission without good planning and resources. I was trying to make a point about the stakes.) A CEO makes a mistake, no one dies. A president or a general or a senior administrator makes a mistake, even if people die, it's not anybody that they know. And it's not them.

The author uses examples from business and sports a lot. That's part of it. There's an aspect of adrenaline to those, but I don't imagine an NBA player, even a rookie, dealing with white-knuckle fear or making sure that his will is in order before warming up for the big game. Thinking about how their kids will turn out as orphans.

So that's the source of the disconnect. I see nothing in this book about how to train AND empower people to make quick decisions under stress while operating independently but still staying on the game plan. There might be something about setting a good example, but nothing about keeping cool under fire and letting the troops see it or how to model dealing with post-incident stressors. It's a concern because. like violence, so little has been written about that extreme edge of leadership and, like violence, most people have the luxury to believe that anything that falls under the label must be the same thing.

It's also a concern because politicians and administrators who either never spent time on the line or did so very long ago will see the word "Leadership" in the title and think that it will help them communicate with and influence the front line.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is still SIMPLE. Know yourself, know others. Behavior is based on, "what can I do for you". This is leadership. In the training sessions, after all the external stuff (behavior conditioned) is done, get the troops to emote - to express their opinions with some feeling behind it. A leader who can do this is a trusted leader, one who will be followed into hell. A leader such as yourself, where leadership is based on emotional knowledge and expressed through mission-oriented training. Then you have a team of one mind, one focus, so powerful that such a team, or person, can control hundreds or calm down the one.