By Richard Martin

© Rotislav Sedlacek | 123 Stock Photo

My study of military history has taught me that most soldiers and warriors throughout history have gone willingly, if not enthusiastically, into battle. They followed their comrades in arms, and they followed their leaders. They participated in behaviour that was downright counter to their survival and the wish to live a long and prosperous life. In many cases, they fought to defend themselves, their families, and their lands against hostile depredations. But in many other cases, perhaps most, soldiers and warriors have fought for conquest, glory, pride, courage, status, recognition, and booty.

 

On the other hand, the Canadians who have served and sacrificed for peace and security around the world present something of an outlier in this respect. Since the Boer War at the turn of the 20th century, Canadians have largely fought or operated oversees, taking on the forces of countries that have threatened Canada and its allies directly and indirectly, or endangered world peace and security. Over 116,000 have given their lives in these missions, and countless more have sustained debilitating mental and physical wounds. Of these, 158 Canadian soldiers died in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2011. Often forgotten is that approximately 130 Canadian soldiers have died in peacekeeping missions.

It’s only by talking to combat veterans that we can gain a true appreciation for the sheer difficulty of combat and what is involved in military leadership. I was on a battlefield tour when serving in Germany. A Canadian veteran of the D-Day campaign had been a platoon commander during an operation to capture and secure Carpiquet Airfield, near Caen, Normandy. His recall of the engagement was of crawling uphill under the enemy’s grazing fire. Rationally, he knew full well that he had fought on an airfield, and that his memories of crawling uphill must be mistaken. On the other hand, he couldn’t shake the persistent impression of having to struggle against gravity. When he eventually visited the battlefield after the war, he could see that the ground was basically flat and even. It was an airfield after all. But still, the memory stuck with him, and it was only decades later that he could picture the fight in a more objective manner.

The leadership challenge in combat is singular. That soldiers under your command will follow you is not necessarily given, despite the weight of military discipline. Charly Forbes, a veteran infantry officer with the Régiment de Maisonneuve during the Second World War and the Vandoos in Korea recounted his baptism of fire. He had just taken command of a depleted platoon in a company that had been decimated only days before by friendly fire from Allied bombers. He had to lead his platoon to take out a German machine gun that was holding up the battalion’s advance. He did his combat estimate and came up with a simple plan and briefed his men. On his signal, they would run on the flank to assault the machine gun nest while his own machine gunners would lay down covering fire. As he gave the signal, he leapt up and rushed toward the German MG. After a few yards, there was so much withering fire that he had to take refuge in a shell hole. That’s when he realized that there was only one of his soldiers with him. Unflustered, the private said, “It’s okay sir; we’ll take ‘em out,” and the two of them completed the mission.

What does it take to lead soldiers and partake in combat? What makes your troops want to follow you? What makes you want to lead them in this dangerous and, frankly, irrational behaviour? It seems daunting, but it has been done since time immemorial. Coercion and punishment are always possible, but they only work to a certain point. In the final analysis, the best troops are the ones that want to fight, that have morale and cohesion, and who are willing to follow their officers and NCOs until the mission is done. This is what most sets apart the Canadian soldier, sailor, or airman.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

By Richard Martin

Source: Canadian Armed Forces

Leadership is the art of influencing others to get things done in the manner and to ends desired by the leader. The biggest challenge comes not in figuring out what to do, or even in how to do it, but rather in communicating your intent and actually getting people to implement it and achieve desired results.

Companies–small, medium, and large–can have this problem, even those with sophisticated, complex operations and processes. I call this the “disconnect problem”: There is a break between what goes on in a leader’s brain and what happens on the ground to achieve the mission and vision. The resulting gap leaves the organization open to distorted information transfer, mutual incomprehension, corrosive conflict, and other forms of friction.

How can a leader overcome this disconnect problem, and get from her intent to her desired outcomes? There are a few basics that have to be respected. First, there must be a clearly articulated mission with a concrete vision of the end state or desired outcome. This aim must be articulated into supporting objectives which are in turn broken into specific functions and tasks.

The resulting work hierarchy then becomes the framework for assigning responsibilities, authority and accountability, along with the resources and supporting structures and systems to get the job done. It isn’t enough to browbeat people or simply set goals and make compensation depend on their satisfactory achievement. This is a necessary but non-sufficient condition for attaining the aim.

When I went through leadership and command and staff training the army, we had to learn how to “assign troops to tasks.” We were taught–and realized through experience–that things only get done when you have a reasonably good understanding of the mission and effort involved, but also when the work is actually assigned to real people, along with the weapons, vehicles, equipment, ammunition and combat stores to achieve assigned tasks. Otherwise, it’s all just wishful thinking.

Are you just browbeating people into implementing your intent, or do you have a clearly articulated plan, with specific assignment of responsibilities and enablers? If the former, then start now to be more specific in transforming your intentions into actionable direction on the ground. If the latter, then refine your approach and ensure that all levels in your team are doing the same. Also, seek to apply “troops to tasks” to all areas of endeavour within your organization.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

Copyright: Borislav Marinic | 123RF Stock Photo

By Richard Martin

The ongoing saga in Catalonia is an excellent illustration of how crucial it is to consider a range of scenarios before implementing a decision that could be heavy with consequences. And the scenarios shouldn’t all be rosy and positive for us. Consideration must be given to the worst-case possibility as well, so we know what we may be up against before acting. This entails a detailed consideration of competiting and opposing positions, as well as those of other stakeholders and bystanders. It also means preparing contingency plans for the most probable and dangerous possibilities so we aren’t caught flatfooted if they come to fruition.

A well-known radio commentator (and former politician) here in Montreal said this week that he had the impression that the Catalonian prime minister and regional authorities hadn’t really thought through the potential consequences of the independance referendum held a few weeks ago. I agree with him; both sides appear guilty of amateurish improvisation. It seems as though both the instigators of Catalonian independance and their opponents inside and outside Catalonia have given little or no thought to the inherent risks in their decisions and actions, as well as the range of possible responses of the Spanish government, population, businesses, and other countries. I also little or no evidence of forethought in securing international recognition for the referendum and subsequent moves. It’s as if it was all being driven by pure emotion, with not a lot of rational consideration of options.

Such conflicts usually build and fester over time until they reach a feverous level. And it takes two to tango. Threat generates counterthreat; action entails counteraction. Not all outcomes can be foreseen ahead of time, but a great many can be characterized to some extent and compared to see which are most probable and consequential. This is the essence of risk management.

Whether we’re talking about a political entity, a business, a non-profit organization or an individual person, prudent forethought should be given to the range of scenarios and options available or possible before deciding and acting. No forecasting or planning process is perfect, but the benefits of a disciplined and rigorous assessment of the situation and its various branches and outcomes will always pay dividends in better decision-making, management, and leadership. And this includes looking at the situation from your opponent’s or competitor’s standpoint. If I were to take this action, what would my opponent do?

It’s how we try to play sports and games, and it’s the essence of strategy, military, diplomatic, political, and commercial.

Copyright 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc.

By Richard Martin

There has been a lot of chest thumping and ink spilled in recent days about the announcement that Airbus and Bombardier Aerospace have agreed to transfer control of the new C Series airliner business from the latter to the former.

There are important implications from this transaction in terms of politics and economic policy. My goal here, however, is to focus on the readiness and strategic implications for the two companies involved. In a nutshell, both Bombardier and Airbus saw a window of opportunity open and jumped through it at the right time.

© Sergey Ilin|123RF Stock Photo

For Bombardier, Airbus brings financial, commercial, and industrial know how and credibility. If you want to be a global player in the market for commercial airliners, then you have to have a global network with a strong backbone, including the robustness and resilience to batten down the hatches during storms, absorb shocks, and bounce back when the weather turns. Bombardier, while technically able in terms of innovation and development, didn’t have the wherewithal to compete against the big boys: Airbus and Boeing. As a business decision, this opportunity makes eminent sense and I’m sure will be a long-term success.

For Airbus, the opportunity was just too good to pass up. Airbus acquires a brand-new design with huge commercial potential, especially in Asia and the Far East. Talks between Airbus and Bombardier had apparently been ongoing for two years or so, but had broken down more than once for undisclosed reasons. The biggest advantage for Airbus, though, is that the tie-up with Bombardier’s C-Series deals a blow to Boeing. Airbus no longer has to continue developing an aircraft in the same size-class as the C-Series, while acquiring new capabilities and geographical reach.

The big loser in this manoeuvre is, however, Boeing. The latter was evidently trying to destroy the C-Series by lobbying for punitive tariffs on the planes if sold in the US. However, Airbus already has facilities in the US to assemble the aircraft. Delta Airlines, Bombardier’s lead customer for the C-Series in the US, has already declared that they will wait for the planes that are assembled in Airbus’s Alabama factory.

The biggest difference between Boeing and Airbus when faced with Bombardier’s competition is the fact that Boeing chose to view the C-Series antagonistically, as a threat, whereas Airbus viewed it positively, as an opportunity. The same goes for Bombardier. Claims and counter-claims of “illegal” government support are overblown. No one is blameless in that regard, and Boeing is probably the most hypocritical of all.

Regardless, from the standpoint of business strategy and business readiness, Airbus and Bombardier have shown that exploiting opportunities are just as important, if not more so, than trying to prevent or mitigate threats, as important as these may be.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

Copyright: baldyrgan / 123RF Stock Photo

Voici mon premier article, intitulé « Le capital humain : Richesse ultime de l’Afrique », paru récemment dans le magazine Diplomat Investissement. Vous pouvez aussi le télécharger en version PDF.

Here’s the link to my May-June 2016 column on Defence Leadership or Download as PDF.

 

 

Here’s the link to my April 2016 column on Defence Leadership or download as PDF.