Posts Tagged ‘coaching’

Note: Please contact me if you or anyone you know of is interested in publishing this series as a book (or in any other format). I can also provide a full book proposal and will refer you to my agent. This is from the Introduction of my series on leadership and leadership development, based on my experience as an army officer and over 10 years as a business and management consultant helping businesses and executives to thrive in the face of rapid change, risk, and uncertainty. It comes from a book I started to write two years ago. I’ve been posting the introductory chapter as a series on this blog, which you can consult at the following links:

Leadership is the same in the military, business… and hockey

My purpose in writing this series on leadership

What do I mean by leadership anyway?

Why the military approach to leadership is so powerful?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

Whenever I present the principles of military leadership and the related philosophy of leadership development, I often get skeptical responses. Some people tend to dismiss the leadership principles and philosophy enunciated above as too simplistic. One frequent objection is that these principles and this philosophy are okay for low-level supervisors or maybe middle managers, but that organizational and strategic leadership are too complex and critical to be reduced to such simple concepts. Others point out that there are different types of leadership for different situations. How can the military, which relies heavily on authority and discipline, have anything to teach “civvies” about leadership? The implication is that entrepreneurs, executives, and others have nothing to learn from military-style leadership. A third type of response is that the principles and philosophy might work well in Western nations, where there is a culture of openness and inclusion, but that they couldn’t possibly work in other cultures, such as the Middle East, Africa, or Asia.

I can address all of these objections with a simple question. Let’s take the principle to lead by example. Does this principle apply to all of the supposed exceptions cited in the previous paragraph? If we can honestly answer in the affirmative, then we have to admit that leading by example is not just a military leadership principle. We would have to conclude that leading by example is actually a universal leadership principle. Leading by example is (or should be) relevant and applicable to presidents and prime ministers, CEOs and COOs, doctors and nurses, or anyone else for that matter. Not just soldiers and their commanders.

By extension, whether we’re talking about business, government, politics, non-profits, Boy Scouts, health care, education, or whatever, can we honestly dismiss this principle as non-applicable and not relevant? And can we say that Asians, Arabs, and Africans also don’t appreciate exemplary leadership? More generally, can we say that all of the principles and philosophy described above are not relevant and applicable to all levels, fields, and cultures?

Which brings me to the final and most common skeptical objection, that this all quite self-evident and straightforward. After all, doesn’t everyone know that a leader must be competent, or lead by example, or should keep her followers and other stakeholders informed of the situation and in the loop? Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you? But the reality is that, no, a lot of people, leaders and followers included, don’t seem to know these most fundamental of principles. Or if they do know them, they can’t seem to apply them consistently and judiciously.

As I stated earlier in this introduction, I’ve broken every single one of these principles at least once, and in some cases multiple times. I usually didn’t do so out of malice and certainly not out of ignorance, although in some cases I conveniently “forgot” them. Any other person with leadership experience, regardless of the field of endeavor, will admit as much also if they’re honest.

The key question isn’t why the military believes in and teaches such simple and basic leadership principles, or why military leadership development is so focused on imparting teachable skills. It is instead why, despite these approaches being supposedly simple and self-evident, more leaders don’t use them. To put it in a different light, why do so many leaders falter in applying the basics?

So there you have it, the philosophy underlying the military principles of leadership and leadership development. And this is also why I have written this book and why you should read it and take in its lessons for your own leadership and that in your team, business, association, or organization.

© 2016 Richard Martin. Reproduction, forwarding and quotes permitted with proper attribution.

Note: Please contact me if you or anyone you know of is interested in publishing this series as a book (or in any other format). I can also provide a full book proposal and will refer you to my agent. This is from the Introduction of my series on leadership and leadership development, based on my experience as an army officer and over 10 years as a business and management consultant helping businesses and executives to thrive in the face of rapid change, risk, and uncertainty. It comes from a book I started to write two years ago. I’ve been posting the introductory chapter as a series on this blog, which you can consult at the following links:

Leadership is the same in the military, business… and hockey

My purpose in writing this series on leadership

What do I mean by leadership anyway?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

The profession of arms is concerned with the legal, rational application of force to the resolution of a social or political problem. If you are going to rationally apply force, then you will necessarily be directing missions that are risky for those you are leading and the ones you wish to influence through force. The rational application of force therefore requires rational leadership.

But here’s the rub. When you get right down to it, there is nothing less rational than asking people to put themselves in harm’s way for the good of someone else. Evolution has endowed us all with a survival instinct. We have a propensity to avoid life-threatening danger, if at all possible. How do you get people to go against their deepest instincts—and interests—in order to achieve someone else’s objectives?

The military takes a very pragmatic approach to leadership and leadership development. When I was a young cadet, training to become an infantry officer, we learned a set of basic principles to guide in our leadership.

  1. Achieve professional competence.
  2. Appreciate your own strengths and limitations and pursue self-improvement.
  3. Seek and accept responsibility.
  4. Lead by example.
  5. Make sure that your followers know your meaning and intent, and then lead them to the accomplishment of the mission.
  6. Know your followers and promote their welfare.
  7. Develop the leadership potential of your followers.
  8. Make sound and timely decisions.
  9. Train your followers as a team and employ them to their capabilities.
  10. Keep your followers informed of the mission, the changing situation, and the overall picture.

In addition to inculcating these principles, the military approach to leadership development focuses heavily on the “nuts and bolts” of leadership and influence. I call this the competence-based philosophy of leadership development. In a nutshell, officer candidates and rank and file soldiers who have been selected for development are put through grueling training that builds planning, decision-making and directing skills. The military hierarchy does not rely only on character traits and willingness to take charge, but also seeks to impart the specific skills and knowledge required to command.

The underlying assumption of competence-based leadership is that soldiers will follow their leaders if they have confidence in their abilities and judgment. Confidence is directly related to the leader’s abilities to make sound plans, give clear and specific direction to followers, and to exercise rational powers and decision-making even under extreme conditions. The military training system therefore takes a fairly mechanistic approach in imparting these competencies. Instead of simply haranguing trainees or giving them rousing speeches—although those are sometimes required—leadership instructors focus on the processes of situational analysis, problem solving, planning, and organizing. Military forces the world over have created standardized approaches for all aspects of the leader’s job, from how to analyze the enemy’s likely actions and intentions, to assessing the tactical value of ground, logistical requirements, personnel needs, ammunition calculations, etc. There are also standardized processes and templates to follow for tactical planning and giving orders and direction. Everything that a leader has to do has been broken down into discrete steps. The focus of leadership training and professional development is on acquiring the knowledge, skills and attitudes to apply these processes and methodologies in all circumstances. In the final analysis, conflict is too dangerous and important to be left to the vagaries of personality and natural talent. Leadership trainees are assessed against these requirements and must be able to implement them to a reasonable standard before official promotion and appointment to command.

I’ll have much more to say about all of these leadership principles and processes as the book progresses. The key point though is that leadership can be developed. Some people have more natural talent than others. Also, some people have more of the “right stuff” to progress through the ranks and be entrusted with very high levels of responsibility. However, no matter what the command level—tactical, operational, or strategic—leadership is fundamentally the same in form and philosophy. It is the content and complexity of the leadership and command challenges that change as hierarchical and operational responsibilities widen in scope and deepen in impact.

© 2016 Richard Martin. Reproduction, forwarding and quotes permitted with proper attribution.

Note: Please contact me if you or anyone you know of is interested in publishing this series as a book (or in any other format). I can also provide a full book proposal and will refer you to my agent. This is from the Introduction of my series on leadership and leadership development, based on my experience as an army officer and over 10 years as a business and management consultant helping businesses and executives to thrive in the face of rapid change, risk, and uncertainty. It comes from a book I started to write two years ago. I’ve been posting the introductory chapter as a series on this blog, which you can consult at the following links:

Leadership is the same in the military, business… and hockey

My purpose in writing this series on leadership

Why is the military approach to leadership so powerful?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

Before we go any further, it will be helpful to define exactly what I mean by leadership. Whenever I’m facilitating a strategy retreat, working with an executive on developing her leadership competencies, or just in a discussion with a prospect or client, the question inevitably comes up as to what the (or my) definition of leadership is. If I’m conducting training or teaching, I usually turn the question around and ask the trainees or students what their definition of leadership is. When this happens, I always find that the answers cover a range of individual and group behaviors. However, the common element in these answers always has some combination of the following:

  • A leader provides a vision of the future.
  • A leader makes decisions.
  • A leader illuminate the way forward.
  • A leader sets the example.
  • A leader tells people what to do, and sometimes how to do it.
  • A leader inspires and motivates others.

All of these definitions are true, and they all point to a few critical ingredients of leadership. First, there must be a goal. Second, there must be a range of options for how to proceed, and a certain level of uncertainty and risk. Third, the leader must inspire and motivate. Lastly, leaders have to lead; they have to set the example.

But when all is said and done, my favorite definition of leadership is the one I learned in the army:

Leadership is the art of influencing others in the accomplishment of a mission.

This definition is simple, perhaps deceptively so, but it encapsulates all of the elements of leadership that are salient to getting others to behave in a certain way in order to achieve a favored goal. Notice that this definition says nothing about providing a vision, making decisions, motivating others, or telling people what to do. There is no hint of coercion or authority, nor is there any indication that one should use any particular form of influence.

This definition also states that leadership is an art. There may be a certain amount of science and knowledge involved in leading, but ultimately it is more about honing a craft and applying the right skills and mindset than finding and applying the right formula. A good leader is a kind of artisan, honing his craft through diligent practice and experiential learning.

Another keyword in this definition of leadership is influence. Effective leaders use a range of approaches to influence others, from extreme “asking” to extreme “telling.” Sometimes a light touch is needed and a leader must influence by rational argument and evidence. At other times, the leader must get out in front and charge headfirst into enemy fire, hoping that the followers will follow. In some situations, leaders can ask for advice and get everyone to participate in problem solving and decision-making democratically. In others, the leader must be harsh and use threats and coercion to command obedience. It all depends on the leader’s objectives, the needs of the organization, the nature of the mission, and the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and emotional states of the followers. There is no magic recipe, and the more methods a leader has at her disposal to get others to follow her, the greater her range of effectiveness.

The final important element in this definition of leadership is that there is a mission. Leadership is only exercised in the context of some form of purpose or goal. If you’re just trying to influence others to like you or to hang out with you, there is nothing wrong with that. But that isn’t leadership. Leadership is goal-oriented.

© 2016 Richard Martin. Reproduction, forwarding and quotes permitted with proper attribution.

Note: Please contact me if you or anyone you know of is interested in publishing this series as a book (or in any other format). I can also provide a full book proposal and will refer you to my agent. This is from the Introduction of my series on leadership and leadership development, based on my experience as an army officer and over 10 years as a business and management consultant helping businesses and executives to thrive in the face of rapid change, risk, and uncertainty. It comes from a book I started to write two years ago. I’ve been posting the introductory chapter as a series on this blog, which you can consult at the following links:

Leadership is the same in the military, business… and hockey

What do I mean by leadership anyway?

Why is the military approach to leadership so powerful?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

I have found over the years that the most influential and critical teachings in my development as a leader have come from watching, following, and learning from some of the most effective and inspirational leaders. You don’t know any of these people. However, I can say that they shaped my development as a leader in ways they probably can’t even imagine. They have given me the gift of example, guidance or critique at key junctures of my life and career(s). My aim with this book is to give you the same guidance, knowledge, and skills that I got as a developing leader throughout my adolescence, youth, military service, and business career. Some people are still important role models and influences even now, when I’m in my early fifties and enjoying a second career as an independent consultant, coach, speaker, and author.

I’ve structured the book around the ten leadership principles I learned as an officer in the Canadian Army. These military principles no doubt vary across the world, but I’m fairly certain that they nonetheless distill a common core of practical wisdom. I know these principles intimately, because—I often jokingly say—I’ve failed at every single one of them. But I can also assure you that I excelled as well. Sometimes I broke them intentionally, because I thought I could get away with it, but more often I broke them out of bad habits, lack of attention, or just plain foolishness. One thing I can say, however, is that they work, all the time, and in all circumstances. This means that you, dear reader, can also learn these principles.

Now you can incorporate this wisdom into your leadership and style. You may have an image of military leadership as harsh, direct, authoritarian, and prone to excessive rigidity and discipline. I’m not going to lie to you; military leadership can be all of those things. But military leadership is also about bringing out the best in people, forging them into a cohesive, unified, and inspired whole. You may be surprised to learn this, but I was taught that the need to fall back on authority was actually a failing. I therefore learned to rely on influence and inspiration rather than brute power. Military leadership can get people and teams to perform beyond expectations, in ways and conditions that the followers couldn’t even have imagined prior to undertaking a mission or task. Military leadership goes well beyond the transactional style of influence and basic forms of teamwork. It’s about creating an organic whole to survive and thrive in life threatening situations and that demand sacrifice, superb morale, and overcoming primal fears. Military leadership incorporates the best ways of transforming people, teams, and organizations.

© 2016 Richard Martin. Reproduction, forwarding and quotes permitted with proper attribution.

I’m working on my next book, with the working title of Follow Me! Mastering the Art of Leadership… from the Battlefield to the Boardroom. One thing I consistently reinforce is that leadership can be learned and developed and that it is competence-based. In fact, competence is the heart of leadership.

People want to follow competent leaders. Competence, integrity, and accountability generate credibility with superiors, employees, peers, and the public. Credibility in turn generates respect, which then leads directly to leadership effectiveness.

Competence is the mix of skills, knowledge, and attitudes that is required to be an effective and efficient leader. Knowledge consists of theoretical concepts and technical data. It includes the information required to analyze situations, assess people, make decisions and plans, and understand when, how, and why to act in a timely, efficient, appropriate, and effective manner to achieve individual and organizational goals.

Skills are applied knowledge, the capacity to act according to learning and experience. Whereas knowledge is essentially theoretical in nature, skills can only be acquired through diligent and consistent practice until they become second nature. You can study the psychological aspects of leadership in scientific literature and books, but it’s only when you can translate that to action on the ground with real people that you can truly say you’re a skilled leader.

The technique of supplying corrective feedback illustrates well the relationship between theoretical understanding and practical application. Psychology informs us that people are more open to criticism when it’s constructive and couched in positive, growth-oriented terms. That’s the knowledge part. One of the corresponding techniques on the practical side of the equation is to provide feedback through the “sandwich” technique. You start by giving an overall positive assessment of the subject’s progress and performance. Then you point out the two or three areas where he or she needs to improve. You then assure them of your availability to provide timely advice and the training or coaching to improve. Finally, you reiterate the overall positive assessment, and gain their commitment to specific and measurable improvement goals.

The third component of competence is attitude, which includes all of the dispositions, traits, and beliefs that are required of a leader. At first, an individual must want to take the lead, to be out in front, take risks, and assume responsibility. After that, he must have the right mindset to continue leading, to be accountable, and to have the integrity to influence and inspire others. At one point during his presidency, Barack Obama was criticized from all quarters for saying he preferred to “lead from behind.” Most observers sensed, correctly, that this is an oxymoron. To lead is, by definition, to be out in front, taking hits and risking your reputation. You can’t do that with a wall of people in front of you to protect you from the harshness of reality.

By the same token, leaders must be willing to accept a certain amount of conflict and questioning from their advisors. Otherwise they risk getting lost in a miasma of sycophancy and adulation that cuts them off from reality. Abraham Lincoln intentionally forged a cabinet that was, as aptly named by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, a “team of rivals.” He wasn’t afraid to accept various points of view and challenges to his thinking and plans. As a result, his policies were stronger and bolder, and he is recognized as one of the greatest political leaders in American—and world—history.

Leaders must excel in all three forms of competence, and these must be in balance as much as possible. Someone who has knowledge and the right attitude to be a leader, but who doesn’t know how to lead, influence, and inspire others, is either ineffectual as a leader, unqualified, or simply inexperienced.

Someone who has knowledge and skills, but lacks the right attitudes and dispositions to lead with intention, integrity, and a sense of responsibility will often display a lack of accountability, unpredictability, moodiness, as well as egotistical, vainglorious behavior.

Someone who has the skills and the right attitudes will know how to influence and inspire others, but will lack the wisdom to apply these abilities in a timely, effective, and ethical manner. Such leaders can often be highly charismatic—think of Adolf Hitler … or maybe that crazy boss you once worked for—but they can be extremely dangerous and even destructive.

12 techniques to boost your leadership competence

  1. Set clear overarching objectives for you and your team.
  2. Analyze the internal and external environments, as well as the evolving situation.
  3. Consider multiple scenarios and courses of action before making a decision.
  4. Formulate a clear and direct mission and communicate it openly to your followers.
  5. Surround yourself with the right people and involve them as much as possible in analysis and decision-making.
  6. Ask for advice from followers, peers, and superiors and consider multiple perspectives in your analysis and decision-making.
  7. Break your plans into actionable steps and tasks and assign these to specific individuals on the basis of their competencies, talents, and developmental requirements.
  8. Ensure your subordinates have the resources needed to do their respective jobs and support them in their tasks.
  9. Communicate your plans and intentions clearly and directly.
  10. Question your followers frequently to know what they know, understand, and believe.
  11. Designate priorities and the focus of effort for all your plans and intentions.
  12. Follow up to ensure effective and efficient implementation of your guidance and direction.

I’m never too busy to discuss your needs or those of anyone else you feel may benefit from meeting or talking to me. So feel free to contact me at any time!

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

When I was in the Army many years ago we would have all kinds of competitions. Many focused on military drills and skills, such as shooting, but there were also When I was in the Army many years ago we would have all kinds of competitions. Many focused on military drills and skills, such as shooting, but there were also a lot of sports competitions, one of which was an annual snowshoe race. You read that correctly; we would actually run in snowshoes. Not particularly fast, but run we did.

The team coach was a highly proficient sergeant and an excellent snowshoe runner himself. On the first day of training one year, he gathered all the team members together and told them he would divulge the “secret” of snowshoe racing. You would have thought he was about to reveal a great truth. In a way he was: “You start by putting one foot forward, then the other, then the other, then the other again… and you keep on doing that until you get to the finish line or collapse trying.”

Now, you have to admit that’s a pretty open “secret,” but it contains it contains a basic truth. Most things we undertake are really not that difficult or complex. However, they do take discipline and persistence. These are traits that the military seeks and reinforces in its recruits and members. You can’t accomplish a task unless you set your mind to it. Moreover, most worthwhile undertakings will entail a certain degree of difficulty and challenge, or could even be subject to the competition and aggressive intentions of others.

This story highlights another aspect of discipline and persistence that are often forgotten or not even acknowledged. I wish I could remember who it was, but another former military colleague once said that discipline is really mostly voluntary. This goes against the common understanding of discipline as something that is imposed. However, the origins of the word are the same as disciple. In other words, to practice and master a discipline, once must first submit to a teacher and his teachings. That is what a disciple is: someone who willingly follows a teacher who knows more and is more skilled a field than the disciple.

When you combine the fact of voluntary discipleship with persistence and the rigour of a systematic approach to knowledge and skill development, you get a potent mix that ensures the maximum chances of success. A key part of discipline and persistence is to actually follow the steps and technique laid out in systematic procedures.

When I was writing my first book, Brilliant Manoeuvres, a few years ago I did some research into the best approaches for productive and effective writing. I came across a book for academics titled How to Write a Lot, by Paul Silvia. You’d think there would have been a lot of technical insights about outlining and getting organized and other assorted methodological pointers.

The author pointed out instead that all of those things could actually get in the way of productivity. How? By becoming excuses to procrastinate. It turns out that the “secret” to productive writing is to sit down and write. Sounds a lot like the advice that sergeant gave about “effective” snowshoeing. There is never going to be a good moment to start writing. Inspiration and creativity come with practice and work, not by sitting there and thinking or worse, hoping and wishing. I applied the same discipline and persistence I learned in the army (for snowshoeing and other more life-defining undertakings). That’s how I produced my first book.

I could also talk about other factors in discipline, such as the unattainable search for perfection and waiting for the “right conditions” or the “right timing.” The reality is that there is never a right time or the right conditions to do anything. What we need is a systematic method (also known as rigour), the discipline to actually apply it, and the persistence to continue despite setbacks, mistakes, opposition, and the occasional discouragement.

I speak to a lot of entrepreneurs, business owners, and executives. Most have gotten to where they are through hard work, discipline, and persistence. But there is always more opportunity and need for discipline and persistence, as well as rigour. Every business and individual gets to a point of questioning and renewal in order to grow or break through to the next level. This takes just as much discipline and persistence as it took to get to the present level.

Richard Martin is a The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

I just read an article in the Globe and Mail about how to manage so-called “Millenials.” Never has so much navel gazing led to such hot air with so little logic or evidence to back it up. But other than that I don’t feel strongly about it…

The problem I see with the whole Gen-X, Gen-Y and other assorted generation alphabet soup claims is that they are based on (re)discovering things that have always existed. Young people today supposedly need meaningful work and only respond to good leadership. When was it ever different? And moreover, isn’t that what all people want, at least in some measure?

As an officer in the Canadian Army from 1985 to 2006, I saw a transition to more meaningful and transformational leadership, but it applied to everyone, not just Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers. Someone in their forties or fifties was no more accommodating of incompetent leadership and asinine work than someone in their teens, twenties, or thirties. I know I always wanted meaningful work and a sense of belonging.

Anyone who has read Plato will know that elders have been harping about the supposed lack of respect for authority or their impatience with traditional ways of doing things of the younger generations since at least the 5th century BC. And it’s been going on ever since. Remember the Monty Python skit about the “Young People Today”? It came out in the early 70s, before they’re were Millenials, or Generation Alphabet Soup.

And what about all those previous generations of dreamers and rebels who wanted to change society and intergenerational relations? Weren’t they looking for meaningful work, a sense of belonging, and other intrinsic motivations? Didn’t they respond to competent, transformational leaders who sought to influence them through intrinsic motivation, the power of example, and challenging goals and responsibilities?

The sooner we get off this generational hobby horse, the sooner we can get back to sound principles of leadership, which I’ve written about extensively. People of all ages, backgrounds, and cultures respond to inspirational and competent leadership no matter what the circumstances. No one likes to follow an incompetent leader, except perhaps out of pure curiosity. I know, I’ve had the practical experiences leading soldiers and civilians, business people and managers, around the world in all environments.

Richard Martin is a Master Strategist and Leadership Catalyst. Richard brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

Now is the time to get ready for battle!

And you don’t have to go in blind. Why don’t you call on the best strategist to give you the edge you need?

Richard Martin served as an infantry officer for 21 years in the Canadian Army.

He is the expert in applying military wisdom and know-how to winning business and organizational battles.

Richard shows you how to apply the fundamental principles of military strategy and leadership: manoeuvre and discipline.

Richard will lead a real, honest to goodness BATTLE PROCEDURE BRIEFING for you and your team that will propel you to victory!

“Did you know that an infantry battalion only needs about 3 to 4 hours of prep and planning time to be battle ready? What are you waiting for to get the same benefits for your outfit?” – Richard Martin

Duration: 3 to 4 hours, at your location

Investment: variable depending on needs and objectives of client

Contact me right away to see if you have what it takes!

Richard Martin, The Leadership and Strategy Catalyst, Alcera Consulting Inc.

514 453-3993

Richard.Martin@alcera.ca

www.alcera.ca

Check out Richard on video: http://www.alcera.ca/en/videos-teleconferences.php

Richard Martin is the author of Brilliant Manoeuvres: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles

Brilliant Manoeuvres is Sun Tzu’s Art of War combined with Drucker’s The Effective Executive.”

— Alan Weiss, PhD, Author of the bestselling Million Dollar Consulting

The agenda and content may vary according to the client’s objectives, Richard’s professional opinion and experience, or the exact nature of the situation under assessment. While the procedure is important, it is also critical that strategic and tactical conditions guide the process. Richard has the expertise and discipline to keep the team on track with a systematic approach.

Note: Battle-dress not required… 😉

Uber-consultant Alan Weiss, PhD, is running the Million Dollar Consulting® Conference in Atlanta in March. He already has 130 people signed up, but his “stretch goal” is 200. As a long-time member of Alan’s excellent communities I can attest to the incredible value of this opportunity. If you’re a solo consultant, coach or speaker, or if you run any kind of professional services business (e.g., accounting, legal, etc.), then this is the place you should be.

The site is below, with dates, presenters, and logistics. This is also one of the most inexpensive ways to be with Alan, as some registrants have pointed out, since he’ll be speaking and present throughout the three days. Please note that the special keynote speaker will be Dr. Martin Seligman, the founder of the entire field of positive psychology. Wow!

Million Dollar Consulting Convention

When I was a young cadet on basic infantry officer training the instructors would give us leadership challenges so we could practise our skills and they could evaluate us. One time I was put in charge of navigation for the platoon. We were on a night patrol and had to advance through relatively open terrain until we came a to a wood line. At that point, I had planned our route to take a different heading toward our objective.

As we walked in single file through the darkness, I could see the wood line approaching ahead. The only problem was that we weren’t supposed to be that close to the wood according to our pace counting, which is how we measured the distance covered (back in the days of map and compass, before GPS). I got more and more anxious as we got closer to the wood line. Finally, I halted the march and told the cadet platoon commander that it looked like I had made a navigation error.

We huddled under an opaque tarp with the flashlight—so as not to signal our presence to the “enemy”—and examined the map closely. No matter how I turned it and recalculated our route, I couldn’t square the fact of seeing the wood line so close with my verified calculations showing we were still at least one kilometer from the wood. I nonetheless concluded that the pace-counters and I had made an error and that we were in fact very close to the wood. I dutifully told this to the platoon commander. He asked me if I was sure and I assured him that we were very close to the wood line. At this point, the NCO who was evaluating me came up and asked what was happening, why we had stopped. I explained my reasoning, he looked at the wood line, and shrugged, saying we should hurry up and not stay out in open terrain without moving.

So the platoon resumed its march toward the wood, which I was sure by now was only 40 or 50 meters away. A few seconds later, we entered a low shrub bush. It was only a few tens of meters deep, and once we were through, there was no wood or wood line. In fact, I could now clearly see in the limited moonlight that the wood line was were it was supposed to be, about 800 or 900 meters distant.

I immediately realized that my error wasn’t in navigation, but rather in perspective. I couldn’t have been more embarrassed if someone had shone a spotlight on me. I felt my face flush and a knot in my stomach. I had mistaken the shrubs a few meters in front the platoon for the wood line one kilometer away. I felt foolish, because I had discounted my calculations and the questioning of the pace-counters and platoon commander in favour of my own faulty impressions, no doubt caused by fatigue, self-doubts about my navigation skills, and anxiety at being responsible for finding our way to the objective. In this particular instant of my young military career, I had detected an obstacle that wasn’t there. To paraphrase the Pogo cartoon of the 1950s, “I had met the enemy, and he was me.”

You’d think that I would have learned a major lesson at that point, but I guess I was too young to generalize it to other areas of my personal and professional life before going through similar processes several more times. How many times did I have to learn that I was often discovering obstacles—enemies even—that simply weren’t there? Over time I realized that most obstacles and enemies in my path were completely illusory.

As I’ve developed my consulting practice over the last eight years I’ve come to the realization that this “enemy is us” phenomenon applies to just about everyone, in at least some areas of their professional and personal lives. When we set out to reach a goal, we often create illusory enemies or obstacles. I’m constantly surprised at how my suggestions for improvement or to try something new are rebuffed with declarations such as: that would never work for me; I’ve tried that once (17 years ago) and it didn’t work; so-and-so try that and it didn’t work; that’s too hard for me; I couldn’t never do that; and, my personal favourite, what if I fail?

I had breakfast with a highly successful businesswoman a few days ago. She was wondering why she could accomplish so much in such a short period of time and get results no matter what happens, while others constantly struggle. I realize now what the “secret of her success” is. She doesn’t doubt herself, or second-guess her approach to reaching her objectives. She just goes out and does it without worrying about trying, or failing, or not doing it the right way. To quote Yoda, that master of enigmatic wisdom, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

What are the imaginary obstacles you put in your personal and professional path? Are there bogeymen that you need to extirpate from your imagination? What enemies lurk in ambush in your mind? What shrubs and bushes are masquerading as trees and woods in your perspective?

© Alcera Consulting Inc. 2014. We encourage the sharing of this information and forwarding of this email with attribution. All other rights reserved.