Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

By Richard Martin

The fundamental law of economics is that of supply and demand. The price for any commodity is set at the intersection of customers’ desire to acquire the commodity and its availability for purchase. The market price thus brings together sellers and buyers and is constantly adjusted to value which customers attribute to a commodity and the price which sellers are willing to accept.

What we are seeing right now in the Covid-19 pandemic is a breakdown, or rather the failure, of the natural workings of the market system. The pandemic has caused and continues to cause a surge in demand for medical care, especially acute care as represented by ICU bedspaces. Unfortunately, the medical supply system has failed to respond to those surges other than at the margins, by calling in retired medical professionals, converting some space, and deferring other potentially life-saving interventions (e.g., cancer and cardiac treatments).

To see how the market can respond in a rapid and effective manner, we only have to look at how private sector enterprises have been able to rapidly switch production lines to serve surging needs in many areas. Numerous manufacturers converted and ramped up production of surgical masks, respirators, nitrile gloves, clear plastic faceguards, medical garb, to name a few of the most needed items. While not instantaneous, the shift happened at light-speed by the standards of the medical community.  Private operators understood the commercial opportunity and reacted accordingly to meet an unfulfilled demand, without any prompting by ponderous government overseers.

The same has occurred in the field of DNA tracking, infection testing, contact tracing, and, most important of all, vaccine development. It is a wonder to behold how rapidly and effectively biomedical and IT companies have focused their efforts on developing treatments and counter measures. All is not perfect, but compared, once again, to the habitual inflexibility of existing medical care systems, the progress is nothing short of miraculous.

Except it isn’t miraculous. The adaptations that have successfully arisen over the last year are due to three key factors. First of the these is a new, unfulfilled demand.  The second is private initiative to satisfy that demand. And third is competition. Even public sector labs and research institutions have gotten in on the game, seeing who can come up with an effective treatment or vaccine first. A small manufacturer in Quebec came up with an innovative and elegant solution to filter out at least 99% of particles in the air. It was only the workplace safety bureaucracy in Quebec that was refusing to approve the new type of mask because it didn’t conform to antiquated and inflexible regulations, despite the proven effectiveness of the design by federal lab tests.

I present these various private and competitive initiatives to illustrate that the solutions for the surge in demand for acute medical care being adopted around the world are stuck in the past and completely incapable of adapting to the reality around them. Early in the pandemic, in the spring of 2020, there were signs of hope. Despite all the criticism he received, President Trump was the only head of government in the developed world to order the mobilization of military medical know-how. He despatched two massive hospital ships, one to New York and the other to Los Angeles. The Javits Center in New York was converted by the US Army Corps of Engineers into a multi-thousand-bed hospital. Trump also initiated the set-up of field hospitals throughout the US. As far as we know, none of these emergency facilities were used much as the first wave subsided over the summer, and we have heard nothing of them since.

We can criticize Trump’s political skills and incessant Tweeting all we want, but we cannot but acknowledge his response  in the manner of an entrepreneur. If the demand for your products is through the roof, you invest as quickly as possible in new capacity. The fact that he used the US military to do so also shows that the military approach to medical treatment is highly appropriate in a pandemic. Military planners are taught to anticipate and estimate casualties resulting from operations and to concentrate medical assets to absorb the shock.

What happened during the summer of 2020? Most of us deluded ourselves into believing that the worst of the pandemic was over. We thought we could go back to business as usual and just wait for a vaccine to be available. Our government and medical leaders instituted lockdown measures in the spring and early summer of 2020 to “flatten the curve.” Most of us accepted the logic of the decision as a temporary measure. The federal government and most of the provinces instituted financial assistance to those most in need. We can argue about whether either set of measures was effective and appropriate, but at least they tried to defend against the worst effects of the shutdown.

However, as any military strategist or entrepreneur will tell you, defence is only a temporary measure to reconstitute forces and plan for a counterattack. Eventually, all protective barriers are breached; all business success is undermined by competitors. Thus, when the going is good, or there is a lull in the battle, that is the best time for planning to go back on the offensive.

In the case of the pandemic, our governments should have done everything possible to go on the offensive. Vaccine development has led to the first immunization campaigns, but it’s still way too early to see if the strategy will be effective. The 2020 summer lull in the pandemic presented an opportunity to build up capacity in the medical system. No doubt there was trimming and tugging around the edges of the system, but nothing like what was already then being anticipated as needed.

The Trump administration’s mobilization of military medical expertise is indicative of the type of campaign that should have occurred. In Canada, Quebec and Ontario asked for, and got, the temporary assignment of Canadian Armed Forces personnel to clean up the mess in nursing homes and long-term care facilities that had been neglected for too long. But that was only a stopgap measure. The premier of Quebec, François Legault, did launch an emergency campaign over the summer of 2020 to recruit and train 10,000 new caregivers for the province’s long-term care facilities. He did this despite resistance from within the provincial health department and unions. Part of the program involved offering much more enticing salaries. The program has not been perfect, but it has been largely successful and continues to fill out the ranks of the provinces long-term care facilities. Is it happenstance that Legault is a former businessman?

Instead of just mailing cheques to individuals and businesses, the Trudeau government should have ordered a massive campaign to mobilize the military to provide medical expertise and field engineers to the provinces to build standard field hospitals, complete with emergency facilities, ICUs, and casualty transportation and evacuation. The military was against using the armed forces in that manner, citing the need to maintain “preparedness.” However, this is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. The country, the entire world in fact, was engaged in a battle where time and resources were of the essence. The Prime Minister should have overruled the Chief of the Defence Staff and the Minister of National Defence. The war was happening, and the main resource that the nation has was busy practising manoeuvres in Wainwright Alberta. It reminds one of the joke extant within the professional officer class at the end of the First World War: “Now, we can finally get back to real [i.e., colonial] soldiering”.

Meanwhile, the most imaginative solution that anyone in government and in the medical system can come up with is to shut down society, by force if necessary. Thus, confinement, lockdowns, and even curfews are in effect everywhere, not just in Canada and the US. Instead of really going on the offensive against the pandemic and investing massively in upgrading and supplementing medical infrastructure, our leaders in government and medicine have chosen to blame the victim and make him/her pay by suppressing their liberty, freedom of movement, and right to earn a living and associate.

The population has by and large complied, at least in Canada and Europe. The only exception is the US, where the natural rebelliousness of the people and willingness to risk arrest and even death has meant that a large percentage of the population is actively resisting the lockdowns.  There is a logical argument to be made in favour of lockdowns and restrictions of movement and human contact. However, to the best of my knowledge, there is no scientific, evidence-based demonstration of their effectiveness to stop or resist the spread of the virus. The effectiveness of such radically disruptive and impoverishing measures is just assumed, apparently based on nothing more than common sense and that everybody is doing it.

I’ve proposed in this article an alternative solution, to be used instead of or in combination with any number of other measures. The lack of imagination of our health care and governmental leadership is breathtaking. On the other hand, we have seen what can be done when private initiative and competition are allowed to seek out solutions to obvious problems. Selective restrictions to contact and movement, as well as medical triage are no doubt needed and valuable. But they can’t be the only solution. We need to go back on the offensive, relaunch society and the economy, allow people to earn a living, and force our medical practitioners and administrators to stop dictating how to fight the pandemic.

We can see that the lockdowns and curfews are of dubious value while generating massive direct and opportunity costs for individuals, families, whole industries and countries. We will regret the restrictions because we’re not maintaining and upgrading the wealth and systems in a timely and effective manner. Moreover, we’re hoping that vaccination and immunization hold the key. But what if they don’t? What if in a year people are still dying and we still don’t know how to eradicate the disease? Shouldn’t our leaders, our governments, our doctors and medical administrators be looking for other options?

The author is an expert in crisis leadership and a former officer in the Canadian Army, with over 26 years’ experience in various missions around the world. He is currently the president of the Canadian Academy of Leadership and Development of Human Capital ( and principal of Alcera Consulting Inc. (, a firm that helps executives and organizations exploit change to grow and prosper. He is the author of Brilliant Manoeuvres: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles.

© 2021 Richard Martin

par Richard Martin

Le besoin est clair. Les PME québécoises doivent se démarquer par les compétences exceptionnelles de leadership et de mobilisation de leurs dirigeants afin d’augmenter rapidement et durablement leur productivité et leur rentabilité. Ces efforts amélioreront l’accès aux capitaux pour investir dans la productivité. Les profits additionnels pourront aussi contribuer à une meilleure rémunération et plus d’investissement dans le capital humain, ce qui augmentera l’attractivité pour la main-d’œuvre ainsi que sa fidélisation.

Selon Statistique Canada, les PME comptent pour 92 pour cent de tous les emplois du secteur privé au Québec. Cette proportion dépasse quelque peu celle au Canada anglais et de loin celle des autres pays du G7, en particulier les États-Unis. La prédominance des PME dans l’emploi explique en grande partie la productivité et la rentabilité relativement basse des entreprises québécoises et leur capacité restreinte d’investissement dans le capital matériel et humain. En effet, la productivité de la main-d’œuvre est directement tributaire de l’investissement dans les techniques et les équipements les plus avancés. Les PME québécoises doivent lutter contre des concurrents profitant d’économies d’échelle élevées et permettant ainsi de rentabiliser plus facilement les investissements en R-D et en biens capitaux à la fine pointe de la technologie.

Les sondages de la BDC démontrent effectivement que les deux plus grands maux de tête des entrepreneurs et dirigeants de PME au Québec sont le manque de fonds pour mettre en œuvre leurs projets et la nécessité d’augmenter et d’assurer la rentabilité à long terme. Il est évident que l’un ne va pas sans l’autre. En somme, les PME sont le moteur des économies québécoise et canadienne, mais elles doivent se battre dans un environnement hostile dominé par des grandes entreprises jouissant d’importantes économies d’échelle et donc plus productives et rentables.

Aux impératifs de compétitivité, de productivité et de rentabilité, s’ajoute le besoin de faire concurrence aux grandes entreprises pour une main-d’œuvre de plus en plus rare et de plus en plus courtisée. L’attraction par la rémunération et les conditions de travail alléchantes ne date pas d’hier. Mais, en plus, certaines grandes boîtes technologiques commencent à offrir la possibilité aux employés de prendre des vacances illimitées ou de travailler une partie de leur temps rémunéré sur des projets qui leur tiennent à cœur. Les PME québécoises doivent donc non seulement se battre pour l’achalandage des clients, mais aussi pour les meilleurs employés et cadres.

Pour survivre et même prospérer dans ce milieu, les PME québécoises ont un avantage que les grandes entreprises n’ont pas. Ce qui, d’un côté peut être vue comme une faiblesse, de l’autre peut être perçue comme une force. Les grandes entreprises ont tendance à être lentes à changer de cap et sont souvent « déconnectées » de leurs clients, employés et partenaires d’affaires. Une PME peut substituer cohésion, rapidité, adaptabilité et agilité à la force brute d’une grande entreprise. Pour survivre et, même plus, prospérer, les PME québécoises doivent tirer avantage de leur petite taille. Les actionnaires des PME en sont très souvent les fondateurs en plus d’en être les dirigeants. S’ils savent diriger et mobiliser leurs équipes, leur esprit entrepreneurial peut se répandre à tous les échelons de l’entreprise et en affecter positivement la culture. Le dirigeant, qu’il soit fondateur, actionnaire ou cadre à l’emploi de ces derniers, peut, s’il le souhaite, connaître tous les employés de la boîte et apprécier leurs forces, faiblesses, talents et buts afin d’en soutirer la meilleure performance possible, tout en tirant profit de leur épanouissement personnel et de leur perfectionnement professionnel.

Le leadership exceptionnel et la mobilisation organisationnelle constituent donc les avantages concurrentiels fondamentales de la PME québécoise. Pour les exploiter, les entrepreneurs et dirigeants de PME doivent générer une mission valorisante et mobilisatrice et guider leurs équipes vers des sommets toujours plus hauts de qualité, de productivité et de rentabilité. Les entreprises dont les dirigeants savent insuffler l’esprit entrepreneurial et « mobiliser leurs troupes » autour d’objectifs collectifs rassembleurs, tout en prônant l’initiative individuelle, sont plus souples et rapides à exploiter les opportunités et se prémunir contre les menaces. Ceci permet d’augmenter la productivité à brève échéance sans nécessairement avoir à augmenter l’investissement à court terme dans les biens capitaux ; l’effet salutaire sur la rentabilité peut survenir rapidement. Les profits additionnels ainsi dégagés peuvent alors être dirigés vers l’accroissement de la rémunération et l’investissement dans le capital humain et le capital productif. L’entreprise devient alors plus attractive pour la main-d’œuvre et peut aussi améliorer sa productivité et donc sa rentabilité.

Deux illustrations démontrent le lien entre, d’un côté, leadership et mobilisation et, de l’autre, qualité, productivité et rentabilité. Dans le premier cas, un employé motivé qui connaît bien son rôle essentiel au sein de l’entreprise, et dont la direction cherche à stimuler l’initiative et le dévouement, sera plus apte à servir la clientèle avec respect, rapidité et professionnalisme. Par ailleurs, ce même employé, s’il comprend la nécessité d’économiser les précieuses ressources financières et matérielles de l’entreprise, sera plus apte à reconnaître les instances de gaspillage et d’inefficacité et de chercher à les éliminer ou les limiter, ou à tout le moins les signaler.

Dans le deuxième cas, un employé motivé et mobilisé comprend bien la vision et la mission de la direction. Il sait où elle veut amener l’entreprise. Par conséquent, cet employé pourra utiliser pleinement sa créativité et son initiative pour proposer des nouvelles idées aux dirigeants, surtout s’il sait que ces idées seront prisées et qu’il recevra reconnaissance et encouragement de ces derniers. Ces idées peuvent concerner des nouveaux produits, des nouveaux clients, des nouvelles techniques ou procédures de production ou de transformation, ou encore des idées pour partager l’information et les connaissances au sein de la boîte et donc d’augmenter la performance et la productivité. Ces idées peuvent nécessiter des investissements financiers, temporels ou matériels, mais pas nécessairement. Par exemple, une nouvelle façon de faire sur la ligne de production ou dans l’entrepôt peut entraîner des économies significatives et améliorer la qualité et la quantité des produits.

En fait, les biens d’équipement ne sont que la matérialisation des bonnes idées antérieures d’autres individus à l’extérieur de l’entreprise. Le dirigeant qui cherche à influencer les individus qu’il dirige et à les mobiliser en tant qu’équipe ou organisation peut transformer leurs relations au travail et aux objectifs de l’entreprise. Seul une minorité de grandes entreprises peuvent atteindre ce niveau de mobilisation et de passion—les Apple et Google de ce monde en sont des exemples—mais encore là, ce n’est qu’une phase passagère dans la vie de la grande entreprise, normalement activée par un leader inspirant, voire même charismatique. Tous ces principes sont à la portée des entrepreneurs et des dirigeants des PME québécoises ; il s’agit d’en voir la possibilité et la nécessité et d’avoir la volonté de faire les changements qui s’annoncent pour les mettre en application.

Richard Martin a comme vision des organisations performantes qui sont durables, cohésives et adaptables face au changement et à la concurrence et qui investissent dans le capital humain. Il intervient auprès de dirigeants et entrepreneurs ambitieux afin qu’ils se surpassent dans leurs capacités de leadership et de mobilisation et qu’ils mènent leurs organisations vers des sommets toujours plus hauts de cohésion, de croissance et de performance. Ses conseils, ses formations et son accompagnement résultent d’une longue expérience à bâtir, diriger et mobiliser des organisations constituées de Québécois pour opérer en missions de paix, de gestion de conflits, d’aide humanitaire et de reconstruction en milieux hostiles où règnent l’incertitude, le chaos et le risque et où dévouement, cohésion, détermination et inspiration sont indispensables à la survie et au succès des missions.

© 2018 Richard Martin. Reproduction et partage permises.

Copyright: Tomas Marek | 123 Stock Photo

by Richard Martin

“Then you, or anyone else who is to be ruler and trustee, not only of himself and his private business, but also the city and city’s business, must first acquire virtue himself.” Plato, Alcibiades

The Alcibiades was considered in Antiquity to be the entry point to Plato’s philosophy. Although studying his works eventually led to esoteric discussions on the nature of ideas and reality, i.e., metaphysics, the process was all in the service of determining who should lead in public life, how they should be educated and selected, and how they should actually lead and manage the affairs of state.

The recent spate of revelations of abuses by prominent leaders in business and other areas shows that the question of ethical and virtuous leadership is still alive and remains as pertinent as ever. The emphasis on political leadership in the Alcibiades and Plato’s other works should not blind us to the relevance of this wisdom for the exercise of leadership today, no matter what the field.

Alcibiades was a real historical figure in 5th century B.C. Athens. An aristocrat by birth with the most noble lineage, extremely wealthy, physically attractive and charismatic, Alcibiades was destined and entitled, or so he thought, to lord it over his fellow Athenians. He didn’t start the destructive Peloponnesian War against Athens’ deadly rival Sparta, but he was instrumental in prolonging the struggle and convincing the assembly to launch an ill-fated punitive expedition against the Greek-Italian city-state of Syracuse. When the operation started to go pear-shaped, Alcibiades jumped ship (literally), and defected to Sparta, and eventually Persia, Athens’ supreme nemesis. His boundless ambition and egotism led him to repeatedly switch sides and led to his ultimate assassination, as even the Persians’ grew to distrust him.

Plato’s dialogue Alcibiades ostensibly presents a conversation between Socrates and a youthful Alcibiades on the cusp of manhood. As summarized by translator and editor D.S. Hutchison,

“Socrates feels the time has come to approach Alcibiades and bring him into his intellectual and moral orbit. It is Alcibiades’ lust for power that Socrates appeals to, promising that Alcibiades will never amount to anything without his help. In the discussion that follows, Alcibiades is brought to see, very reluctantly, that he knows nothing about moral values or political expediency and that he needs to cultivate himself assiduously in order to realize his enormous ambitions. But what is the ‘self’ that he needs to cultivate? It is his soul, the ruler of his body. The virtues of the soul that he needs to acquire are the intellectual skills that give it the authority to rule, over its body and over other people as well.”

In a later work, The Republic, Plato shows Socrates presenting what those virtues should be: courage, justice, temperance, and practical wisdom, i.e., the judgment to know what to do, when to do it, and to what end. To take Harvey Weinstein as the most revealing example of how to break all of those principles, Weinstein himself showed little moral courage; he preyed on women who were ambitious and prone to accept his abuses and advances in order to further their careers. Quentin Tarentino, his long-time collaborator, has admitted to his lack of courage in turning a blind eye for decades on Weinstein’s lasciviousness. Weinstein’s injustice is obvious, as is his lack of temperance and self-control. He was a slave to his passions. As for practical wisdom, his exploitative strategies eventually turned against him. Uma Thurman recently tweeted that a bullet was too quick for him, implying that he deserved to suffer a long and humiliating downfall.  I’ll leave others to judge the wisdom of her own attitude.

My point, however, is that Weinstein is a modern-day Alcibiades. He couldn’t rule his own desires, his “soul”; in the process, his exploited, degraded, and abused subordinates and business partners. We can add his name to a long list of others in recent years who have illustrated themselves by their lack of a moral compass. If, in the final analysis, one can’t lead ethically, with wisdom and justice, then one shouldn’t lead at all.

© 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.

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.


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



Here’s the link to my December 2016 column on Defence Leadership.


Here’s the link to my February 2017 column on Defence Leadership or download as PDF.