Posts Tagged ‘entrepreneurship’

by Richard Martin

It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting in my hotel room in Dubai. I’m here to conduct courses in strategic and operational management and leadership. I’m pondering the power of a vision and the means to achieve it.

I first was in the United Arab Emirates in December of 2002, as I prepared to deploy to Kuwait as the Canadian Forces Liaison Officer to the Coalition Forces Land Component Command prior to the invasion of Iraq. I was able to get into the city of Dubai on a few occasions with some of my colleagues for some R&R. The city has grown a lot in just those 15 years, and even since I started conducting courses here in 2014.

It’s gaudy and slick, hyper-modern and traditional, avant-garde and retrograde, all at the same time. If you like cutting edge architecture in the most bizarre locations with basically nothing around it, then you must visit Dubai. The skyline looks impressive from the sea, but when you’re in the city, all you see during the day is buildings, roads, and a haze combining humidity and dust and the beige-grey desert merging into the same coloured sky on a horizon that you can never quite make out. At night, it’s lights everywhere, sometimes quite pretty. Not as gaudy as Las Vegas, but still extravagant.

What is it about cities in the desert that makes them so attractive to adventurers and admirers alike? There is really nowhere to walk, as everything is designed around roads and a superb metro system. But even if you could walk, you wouldn’t want to for most of the year, as it’s extremely hot and humid. As I write, it’s forecast to go up to 45 C today, but the humidex is predicting 81 C!

The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is the most famous state, was founded in the early 1970s under the visionary leadership of Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi has most of the oil, but Dubai has the chutzpah and international reputation. The current ruler of Dubai is Sheikh Mohammed, who acceded to the post upon the death of his older brother in 2006, but who was also the de facto ruler for a decade before that.

It’s hard to believe, but as late as 1965, the city had a population of only 20,000. Most of these were huddled close to the Dubai Creek, a small inlet from the Persian Gulf. It was a marketplace, but the majority lived off fishing and pearl diving! Now, it’s a global trade and financial centre, and increasingly a manufacturing location and tourist destination. People from around the world come here to work, to make money, and to play.

Most of what Dubai is today, from Emirates Airlines (based in Dubai), the Burj Khalifa (the tallest freestanding building in the world), to the Palm Jumeirah (artificial islands shaped like a palm tree), is a result of the vision and leadership of Sheikh Mohammed. One of his many books is available for sale everywhere, appropriately titled My Vision. As prime minister of the UAE, in 2010 he issued a long-term federal vision for the country, called Vision 2021. Not many countries are led this way—essentially as an integrated organization.

It’s an interesting study in the power of vision combined with the resources to achieve it. Contrary to expectations, though, the city isn’t built on oil money. Exactly the opposite; it’s designed to avoid dependence on oil and natural resources. A possible example for many other jurisdictions around the world.

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

by Richard Martin

That’s a quote attributed to Admiral David Farragut of the Union Navy during a battle in the U.S. Civil War. It’s a great quote for anyone who believes you always have to drive at full speed to get to where you want to go. The problem is that it’s only good in special circumstances, usually when you’re backed into a corner and have no other alternative.

I was reminded of this just this past week as I discussed the matter of deliberate planning and consideration of options with a client. She’s a very successful businesswoman who has mostly functioned on the basis of the “damn the torpedoes” approach to decision-making. It’s worked for her on many an occasion, but it’s also gotten her into serious jams that could have easily been avoided with a little rational consideration of her options at important decision points.

She’s one of those entrepreneurs who has always followed her gut and believes she has the gumption to achieve anything she sets her sights on. While this is no doubt true, there is also a cost to her decisions about which goals and courses of action to pursue. She might have a great vision for her business, but it might simply not be the best time to proceed. That’s where strategic patience and self-control come into play. She has to consider the key factors impinging on her decisions and her plans to implement them. Does she have a good chance of success? Are the right conditions there to support her undertaking? Is she paying the right price or is she barreling ahead, “damn the torpedoes” style? And the price isn’t always financial. It can be in time, effort, emotional engagement, physical presence, or any of a number of other commitments she will have to make to make her dreams come to fruition.

A key lesson I learned as an army officer was to try as much as possible to slow down my decision-making in order to consider the full ramifications of the situation and assess the critical factors affecting my decisions and the range of actions at that point. This is called the estimate process. Naturally, you sometimes have to make a quick decision under fire. But this doesn’t mean you act on instinct alone. Intuition can only be an adjunct to a rational decision process, what the army calls a combat estimate. On many occasions, though, no one is shooting at you (yet), so you must take the time to sit down and work out all the factors and options, both for you and the enemy, and then develop a well-thought-out plan. This is known as a deliberate estimate of the situation.

Interestingly, the greater the import of the decision, the more we all tend to rely on our instincts, when it’s exactly the opposite that should be the case. My client, successful as she is, has realized that she must put more effort and self-control into her critical decision-making and planning. She’ll only come out stronger, and so will you if you do the same thing.

New Testimonial

“Richard has been instrumental in getting me to draw on my hard-won experience and ideas to turn them into marketable intellectual property and products. His disciplined, systematic approach has already led to several significant accomplishments for me. Whether you’re just starting out as an entrepreneur, or working to get to the next level, Richard can boost your productivity and organizational effectiveness. Be forewarned, though. There is no magic formula, just systematic thinking, disciplined execution, and… Richard Martin.”

Caroline Salette, Owner and President, RE/MAX Royal Jordan Inc. and Salette Group Inc.

Richard Martin’s Business Readiness Process:

  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
  8. Communicate plan and issue direction.
  9. Build organizational robustness.
  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
  12. Assess performance.

Contact me to apply the whole thing–or just a piece, as needed–to improve your strategy, your readiness… and your results!

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?

Why Sunday and What Does “Stand To” Mean?

Sunday? I want you to get my insights and advice first and fast, so you can prepare and up your readiness and results before others even know what’s happening!

And Stand To? It’s the order used in the military to get forces to man the parapets and be in a heightened state of situational awareness and, yes, readiness, so they can face any threat or undertake any mission.

My name is Richard Martin and I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

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

by Richard Martin

Readiness can be reduced to this essential component: the intrinsic motivation to be ready, willing, and able to accomplish the mission no matter what.

My daughter Elizabeth works as a salesclerk in a men’s and women’s clothing boutique. She was telling me that the floor manager assembles the team at the start of each day and at shift changes to give them the day’s sales target.

Elizabeth tells me that this quantitative target is little motivation to her. She gets her drive from helping the clients find the right clothing and leaving the store satisfied. To her, the most important thing is the client’s experience and whether they will depart in a good mood, having achieved their aim and willing to come back and recommend the store to others.

As I reflected on this, I realized that it highlights the distinction between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Sales targets are a form of extrinsic motivation. They may influence some people to perform, but most people don’t get their drive from such externally measured objectives.

The willingness to help clients and the satisfaction that comes from doing so is a form of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the stronger form of influence. It comes from within and gives people the inner strength to overcome obstacles and motor past resistance.

Remember Richard’s Business Readiness Process in 2017!

  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
  8. Communicate plan and issue direction.
  9. Build organizational robustness.
  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
  12. Assess performance.

Call me for a Business Readiness Briefing!

My name is Richard Martin and I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

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



Step 8: Issue Plan and Direction

Modern military forces aren’t made up of automatons mindlessly attacking in waves. By the same token business organizations can’t consist of mindless worker drones if they’re going to compete and grow in a demanding environment. Initiative, creativity, leadership, and boldness within the framework of common goals and plans hold the secret to success. But to achieve that, everyone on the team must understand what is expected of them, when, with what resources and effects, and why.

Successful execution is built on delegation and the exercise of initiative at all levels. Effective delegation in turn depends on the time available, individual and team capabilities, situational awareness and understanding, and the degree of motivation and engagement in the “ranks.” Tell your people what to achieve and why it is important, and leave the detailed development of the how to them. This encourages freedom of action, the exercise of initiative, and creativity in planning and execution, and it optimizes flexibility, adaptability, and resilience in the face of adversity. It is also much more satisfying and motivating for everyone.

The plan should be organized and delivered following a standard format. I recommend using the military SMESC template I learned in the military and that I’ve adapted for business and not-for-profit organizations. SMESC stands for Situation; Mission; Execution; Support; and Command, Control and Communications (C3). The aim isn’t to put a straightjacket on people, but rather free them by making common procedures, expectations, and objectives explicit and mutually reinforcing. Mission-based plans and distributed leadership can only thrive when everyone understands the big picture, where to go and what do achieve. This approach harnesses individual and collective initiative to the fulfilment of a higher purpose.

Recap of Business Readiness Process

  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
  8. Communicate plan and issue direction.
  9. Build organizational robustness.
  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
  12. Assess performance.

My name is Richard Martin and I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.


Step 7: Perform Risk Management and Contingency Plannin

Why analyze and manage risk? 

  • It exists whether we recognize it or not.
  • We are better to identify risks consciously and determine how best to accept and/or manage them.
  • That way, we can decide how much risk we wish to take on and the nature of these risks.
  • We should only take on risks willingly in exchange for potential rewards: risk ≈ reward.

What is risk?

  • Risk is the potential for loss due to uncertainty. All risks are quantifiable as the product of probability of occurrence and potential harmful consequences (R=PxC). There are generic risks, such as natural or manmade disasters, and there are inherent risks, which are specific to each course of action. Both types must be identified, evaluated, and actively managed.
  • There are two focal points of risk management: prevention and mitigation.

Risk Prevention

Prevention seeks to reduce the probability of harmful events before they occur. Accepting risks without concomitant rewards is reckless and irresponsible. Such risks can actually be considered as hazards and should be eliminated through careful planning.

Risk Mitigation

  • The second focus of risk management is mitigation, which comes into play if prevention fails and a harmful event actually occurs. Mitigation entails responding in a timely and effective manner to the event so as to minimize its evolution and impact, taking action to contain its harmful side-effects, and implementing recovery and continuity measures.

Contingency Planning

  • One part of risk mitigation involves contingency planning, so as to deal with harmful events and threats. However, contingency planning can also be used to prepare for exploitation of opportunities arising from chance or the effectiveness of our own plans and actions. In sum, contingency planning is about readiness for both positive and negative outcomes.


Recap of Business Readiness Process

  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
  8. Communicate plan and issue direction.
  9. Build organizational robustness.
  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
  12. Assess performance.


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 Chapter 1 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?

People want to follow competent leaders

The first principle of leadership is to achieve professional competence. 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.

Steve Jobs is the perfect example of what I mean by “competence is the heart of leadership.” By all accounts, Jobs was a very hard person to get along with. He could be moody, mercurial, and self-centered. One thing everyone agrees on though is that he was a masterful communicator and a technological visionary. He had an ability to draw the best out of the people around him, especially if they could put up with his demanding personality. Steve Jobs was probably the most admired and successful businessman of the Internet Age, at least up to his death in 2012. People didn’t work with or for him because they liked him; they did so because they knew he could lead them to perform beyond expectations and propel them to a whole new level of creativity and productivity.

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. To counter this, 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.

At this point this probably all seems a bit abstract, so allow me to make it more concrete. Back in 1981 I was a cadet at officer candidate school. Our captain explained the nature of leadership to us. She said that leadership consists of two key areas of application: management and inspiration. It’s not enough to be inspirational. An effective leader must also work to become a good manager, which in turn contributes to his or her ability to inspire and influence.

Now, I have to admit that this goes against one of the most common beliefs about leadership and management. I have often heard executives and entrepreneurs go on about how you can be a good leader without being a good manager, or vice versa. In actuality, they are confusing inspiration—an aspect of leadership—with leadership as a whole. This can make some sense if we’re only speaking colloquially. However, we must be precise with these terms because they each have a specific meaning. If we’re truly serious about understanding and acquiring the competencies we need to lead, then we must analyze all the requirements of competent leadership.

The Case of the Harried Manager

Mike was recently promoted to the position of section head and reports to you. He is in his early 30s and this is his first real supervisory/managerial position in the organization, although he has been in charge of the section for short periods of time on an interim basis. He is also a volunteer on the executive of the local marina and helps to organize the annual regional race. You assume he knows a thing or two about planning and organization. That’s one of the reasons he was promoted, right?

You have noticed over the last week that the quality of his written reports has deteriorated and that he is often late for meetings. This morning you saw him in the parking lot as you arrived about 45 minutes earlier than usual and as he was rushing into the building. You asked him how things are and he mentioned that he had a lot of work to do and needed to get in early. You noticed that he is looking increasingly harried and very tired. You also recall him yelling at one of his subordinates last week for what appeared to you to be a very mundane matter. You tell him to come and meet with you at 3 pm in your office.

You are an experienced executive and have seen this type of thing before. In fact, you can recall your own first experience being in charge of people and how you ended up working very long hours and making unreasonable demands on yourself and your subordinates. You also recall that no one seemed to care when you were at that point in your life and career. You would like to help Mike, but you also want to empower him. He needs to work on his time management and work prioritization skills and also his overall planning and organization competencies. In other words, he needs to develop his managerial competencies.

Mike the Harried Manager was increasingly ineffective as a leader because he was disorganized and managed his time and priorities poorly. During my army career and my ongoing coaching consulting practice, I have found that poor leadership is often attributable to ineffectual management. I once had a prospective client who ran a small business installing and maintaining surveillance and security alarm systems. He was driving his employees and partners to distraction because he rarely made definite plans, much less communicate his intentions unambiguously. They constantly had to react to his last minute requests and mitigate the confusion of clients and suppliers. The company administrator and bookkeeper was the entrepreneur’s sister. She firmly believed that the company could grow and be much more profitable if her brother were to focus on providing more concrete leadership and direction to his team. Unfortunately, I was never able to pin him down for a serious meeting where we could discuss his objectives and needs. He and his company are still struggling because of his lack of organization and inability to focus on clearly articulated and communicated priorities and objectives.

Inspiration and management are clearly fundamental. However, we miss a big piece of the puzzle if we limit ourselves to these two dimensions because they only present a static picture. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my years of practicing, researching, and reflecting on leadership, it is that it should be viewed through the lens of time and change. A leader must be able to provide guidance, interpretation, perspective, and understanding as situations flow through time. No organization or environment ever stands still. Needs change and competitors adapt to the new reality; threats appear and disappear; opportunities come and go, as do people. The one constant is the leader’s vision and guidance and his or her ability to adapt and get others to do so as well. There are three aspects to the time dimension in leadership:

  • The first is developmental: We must be able to grow; we must be able to help our followers grow and develop as potential leaders; and we must be able to steer our organizations through growth, change and evolution.
  • The second aspect of time is that the world evolves and revolves. The external and internal leadership environments are always in flux. We need to adapt to and, better still, shape it to our advantage. Failure to do either entails irrelevance or worse.
  • The third aspect is that events are just instantaneous; they also occur over periods of varying duration. Nothing happens in the blink of an eye. A prudent leader must therefore envision different end states, outcomes, and results, as well as different options to achieve her objectives.


The Leadership Competency Pyramid illustrates the fundamental importance that the military and I give to management competencies for leadership effectiveness. If we view leadership competencies and their resulting effectiveness as a house, then we can see that the ability to manage effectively is the foundation. It provides the underpinning to all other aspects of leadership. Moreover, when I wrote in the Introduction that military forces take a competency-based approach to leadership development, this is what I meant. You create junior commissioned and non-commissioned officers (NCO—roughly equivalent to a foreman or front-line supervisor in an industrial setting) by giving them highly pragmatic skillsets and tools to manage their own work and that of their team. As a matter of fact, effective management builds confidence and confidence provides a platform to be more inspirational.

Military forces grow leaders by breaking leadership into teachable skills followed by diligent practice and critique, not just classroom learning. The focus is on mastering specific behaviors and techniques to analyze combat situations, make quick and appropriate decisions, and give clear and confident orders. It is only with experience and emulation of positive role models that the “softer” skills of inspiration and change management are developed.

Furthermore, as the soldier and officer progress through the ranks, they are given more demanding training that is then supplemented with a more “philosophical” educational approach that relies on readings, reflections, and discussion. Professional development acquires nuance as the individual progresses in responsibility and effectiveness. Ethical issues and complex ramifications are increasingly the focus of analysis, study and debate as each person becomes better able to relate acquired skills, new concepts and their experience to the exigencies of complex modern warfare and leadership.

Overcoming the obstacles to competence

At first, many people react to the military principles of leadership by dismissing them as self-evident or too simple. However, this is actually a sign they are confusing “simple” with “simplistic.” Complication is not necessarily a good thing, and human interactions and group dynamics are already complex and difficult enough without adding complication to the mix. The more revealing question is why we often fail to apply them despite of our appreciation and awareness for them.

I was on my first major exercise as a newly minted platoon commander. I had about 20 men under my command, plus NCOs and an experienced platoon sergeant. After about a week on exercise, I was tired and started to ignore what I had learned about planning and giving clear and direct orders to my troops. Quite frankly, I think my company commander had noticed that I wasn’t as effective and energetic as I should have been. He got my platoon sergeant to give me a good “pep talk.” It was one of the best things that could have happened, because he told me I needed to start using my platoon commander’s handbook. This is a pocket-sized compendium of checklists, mnemonics, and templates for analyzing the tactical situation, making plans, and formulating orders. He also reminded me that the troops were looking up to me to do my job in the most exacting manner possible. Incidentally, this shows how pairing a promising young officer with an experienced deputy has benefits beyond just providing a back up in case of emergency. The NCO can act as a mentor for the inexperienced junior officer.

This was a real wakeup call for me. After that, I got into the habit of following the procedures and using the techniques I had learned on my officer training to do my job, the job that was expected of me by my commander, my NCOs and my troops. I also realized after a few days that I was the best tactician in my platoon. This might seem a bit obvious to someone who hasn’t been in that position, but in retrospect it is fundamental.

The platoon commander’s first responsibility is to command his platoon tactically. That means making sound tactical decisions and plans, and then giving orders and following up to ensure they are carried out properly and adjusted to the realities of the tactical situation. Once I started doing that, everything fell into place and I became much more effective in command. My NCOs and troops gained respect for my abilities and I, in turn, was grew in confidence. When you look at it dispassionately, the most important thing for a military leader is to manage his tasks and those of his troops so as to achieve the mission while managing the risks and not squandering the lives of his soldiers.

It’s very important to grasp what I’m saying here. A platoon commander isn’t the one who drives the vehicles and fires the machines guns. He is, however, the one who must make the plans, assess the enemy and terrain, and then give the orders. He’s like an orchestra conductor, getting all his instruments to play in harmony. The same philosophy applies to any form of leadership and management, whether we’re talking about the coordinator of a team of design engineers or the foreman in charge of a manufacturing section. At a minimum, they must understand the technical basis of the team’s work and its role in the organization. Even more critical, though, is the ability to structure the work and manage the team to achieve desired outcomes. From foreman to CEO, the leader’s number one job is to structure work for his or her followers, to provide the framework and resources that allow them to perform to their full potential. And what can be more inspiring than knowing your job, providing the wherewithal for your team to do theirs, and then doing it with enthusiasm and excellence?

When I look back at my initial experiences as an infantry officer, I realize that my failure to be serious about achieving professional competence and applying all of the knowledge and skills I had learned over the course of my training and education was attributable to two distinct, yet related, factors: lack of self-respect and poor self-efficacy. I believe that many leaders fail to be as effective as they could be because they don’t pursue professional competence with enough enthusiasm and energy. They either rely on what they believe to be their natural talents, or they don’t truly believe that they can become better leaders through practice. Even worse, they want to be friends with their followers and perceived as just one of the gang, as opposed to being respected for their competence and exemplary behavior. The result is that they fail to live up to their full potential as leaders and miss the mark in mission accomplishment.


Self-respect is the genuine belief that you deserve the regard and admiration of others. You’re not entitled to respect because you have the right name, or rank, or background. Rather, you earn it by being competent, knowing what needs to be done and how to do it, and getting others to buy in to your plans and follow. You also act in a manner deserving of consideration and regard. As a friend put it, you have to be respectable if you want to be respected. And that starts with self-respect.

I once worked for a company commander who got completely drunk during a winter exercise. He had apparently decided to polish off the company’s rum ration the night before the battalion’s mock attack on the “enemy’s” main positions. He got up late and was still drunk as the operation got underway, attracting much derision from the troops. Our commanding officer (CO) was furious and relieved him of his command on the spot in favor of the company second-in-command. Not a pretty picture, and surely not a sign of self-respect.

That same commanding officer was one of the army’s high flyers. He was admired, feared, and perhaps even liked as a CO. But most of all, he was respected. Once, he gathered all of the officers in the battalion together in the mess to give us a talk on his philosophy of command and leadership. Though I can’t remember 98 per cent of what he said, the one thing that has stuck with me through thick and thin is that a leader isn’t there to be liked; he’s there to be respected. This idea has become a core belief for me and guided me through my subsequent military career and since I’ve retired from the army and operated my consulting business.

One of my clients—I’ll call him Ed—was the founder of a business with about 75 employees. Over the years he had acquired a number of smaller companies in his niche and kept the previous owners on as minority partners to manage the branches. The situation eventually became a bit of a mess. The sector took a nosedive in 2009, and his business was hit hard. Ed knew he had to make major changes to his strategy and structure, but the resistance of his minority shareholders hampered him. In particular, he was letting the most influential of his partners control the agenda. Ed had to regain the initiative and steer the business through the storm with a steady and uncontested hand on the helm. The last thing he needed was someone undermining his authority.

The first thing I noticed when I started working with Ed was that he was overly concerned by his partners’ feelings and opinions. He was letting them and their concerns dictate the company’s strategy. I told him he had to exercise his authority and regain the respect of his business partners. It was okay to ask for their advice and input on decisions, but he had to make the final call. Also, he had to respect himself as the main leader of the business. After all, it’s his name on the company. He founded it and built it. He controls it and has the biggest financial and personal stake, so he is entitled to impose his will. The time for consensus decision-making had come to an end, but Ed also had to deliver the goods as company president.


Self-efficacy is the deeply held belief that you achieve your mission and goals in spite obstacles, resistance (from self and others), and setbacks. It comes from knowing that you can fill your role and fulfill your mission no matter what happens. It’s about having the faith in your ability to do what you set out to do.

Self-efficacy—as well as self-esteem and self-worth—is related to our basic beliefs about talent and learning. Educational psychologist Carol Dweck has developed a theory contrasting the growth mindset with the fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset tend to see ability as static, something you’re born with, and that stays constant throughout life regardless of effort. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believe it is possible to acquire new skills and knowledge and get better with practice and experience. They seek growth opportunities as well as constructive feedback.

It stands to reason that someone with a fixed mindset will have low self-efficacy and will tend to believe that leadership is a natural talent that can’t be developed. From that perspective, you’re either a leader or you’re not. On the contrary, someone with a growth mindset will have high self-efficacy and believe it’s possible to become an excellent leader through hard work and practice. In that view, leadership is not innate; it is grown.

Confidence building measures

Self-efficacy impacts learning and performance in three ways: goals, effort, and persistence. If you want to develop your competencies as a leader, or help others develop theirs, you have to select goals that get you out of your comfort zone. Such goals provide just enough challenge to push you but not so much that you’re left wondering what to do. You must also put in sufficient effort to learn through observation, trial and error, and feedback. Finally, you must persist in your efforts until you get things right. This approach can be applied to a job, specific tasks, or individual skills, knowledge elements, and attitudes. We can think of it as a stepwise approach to acquiring and honing leadership competencies.

The Case of the Young Over-Achiever

You have just hired Feria, a 26-year-old woman with a MBA. She emigrated with her family from Iran when she was 15. She learned English in about 6 months and was able to win numerous scholarships and bursaries. In fact, she is quite brilliant. She completed her masters in record time, winning a record number of academic prizes. She was hired 3 weeks ago to lead a three-person team working on a special project for the VP. She reports to you. She tells you that her team does not respect her and that she now realizes she can’t really lead. She wants to be reassigned to a research job with no supervisory responsibilities.

What do you think the problem is? Do you think Feria has a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? Are her self-respect and self-efficacy high or low? What clues do you have? How could you help her increase it? What would you say to Feria?

Attitudes are competencies just like knowledge and skills and are just as important. That’s what the case study of Feria exemplifies. She has always been talented and a high performer. However, for the first time in her life, she really needs to buckle down and work to improve her leadership competencies. Your role as her boss is to get her to accept this and to break down her challenge into manageable steps, so she can learn and grow. She has to internalize the fact that her attitude is key.

Do you have a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? Can you identify the associated beliefs and behaviors in yourself and others? Do you know what to do to improve your mindset or adopt a better one? Can you see how your self-efficacy directly depends on your knowledge and skills, and your consequent ability to get results? Finally, can you see how all this creates a virtuous cycle, as shown in the following figure?


In the following table I’ve combined the three levels in the leadership competency pyramid (management, inspiration, change) with the three types of competencies (knowledge, skills, attitudes). The resulting matrix gives an idea of the full range and scope of capabilities that are required for effective leadership. We could develop this type of matrix for every leadership position within an organization, starting with direct supervisors, team leaders, and foremen all the way to the highest levels, chairman and CEO.


Knowing what to do and getting on with it inspire confidence and respect

It’s interesting to note that the first person to come up with a fairly elaborate understanding of modern management was Henri Fayol. Fayol’s conception of management is still the best one I know. As general manager of a mining operation in France in the late 19th century, Fayol was the first to identify the specific components of management: planning, organizing, directing, and controlling. Also of interest is that he based much of his thinking on military concepts of command and control.

Planning: Seeing beyond the next hill

Planning involves seeing beyond the next hill and getting everyone in your team to appreciate the situation. A military leader is expected to manage the current mission while looking out for potential threats and opportunities down the road while making allowance for various contingencies that could crop up. For a leader like you, your plan details your general intent, vision, and mission. It is the basic scheme of maneuver that tells all the members of the team where they fit in and what is expected of them, including their roles, specific tasks, and resources at their disposal. The same applies to leadership in all other fields. By extension, the leader must also provide guidance and direction to his or her followers and subordinate leaders so they have clear boundaries to frame their own planning. Here are the three questions you must answer for your plans to be effective.

Why? Asking why is about determining the aim or purpose of your plan. To do this, you must be capable of analyzing and evaluating the environment and the situation. The aim is to develop as clear an understanding as possible within time and resources constraints so you can determine your ultimate aim. You must observe conditions with a view to identifying risks, threats and opportunities that can hinder or aid you. You must also weigh various scenarios against a number of factors and make a decision about the most likely evolution of the current situation, including competitors’ and other stakeholders’ most likely actions and reactions to your moves.

What? The answer to the what question is the mission you set for yourself and your team. You have to determine what your boss, the organization as a whole, and your peers throughout the organization expect you and your team to accomplish. Additionally, you must also incorporate the needs and concerns of customers (if you have any) and any external stakeholders.

How? By answering the how question you are creating the basic outline of your plan. You must be willing to consider a range of options before deciding which to pursue. Assuming there is sufficient time, this may be an opportune moment to gain input and suggestions from followers and collaborators. Encouraging participation in decision-making and planning is an excellent way to gain commitment from your team and to ensure that you are incorporating all of their expertise and information. By fostering participation in planning and decision-making you are also accelerating your followers’ understanding of the situation and mission and giving them a head start in their own planning process.

Organizing: Building and structuring a cohesive unit

Organizing is about building the team, tasks, and capabilities to achieve your mission and objectives. To do this, you must generate or modify existing structures, systems, policies, procedures and resources to make your plans executable. Organizing is the act of finding and using the tools at your disposal to meet your aims. In addition, it is the process of estimating and matching resources to tasks and goals.

I once had a commander who said, “A vision without resources is a hallucination.” Realistically, there are never enough resources for everything you want to do. As a result, requirements and tasks must be prioritized and sequenced so as to achieve maximum effectiveness and efficiency. The principles of economy of effort and concentration of resources govern the choices one makes in organizing for action. You must decide which tasks and responsibilities to assign to each of your followers or subordinate leaders, as well as the resources they will need to execute them. Finally, you must match the right people to the right task at the right time with the right tools and inputs.

Directing: Communicating the plan and the parameters for its execution

In my experience, this is where many excellent plans and structures start going off the rails. It’s one thing to figure out where you want to go and the roadmap to get to your destination. It’s a whole different ball game to actually execute successfully.

I worked with a client and his senior management team for over six months on a new strategy and the plan to implement it. The only problem was that he failed to communicate it to his employees. This generated needless turmoil and worry in the company. The only thing the rank and file knew was that a consultant (me) was working with the company owner. The rumor mill started chugging away and next thing we knew, employees started fearing layoffs. I told my client to get everyone together and let the entire team know what the plan was, and that there was no intention of letting anyone go, which he promptly did. Still, my client’s failure to communicate his intent through clear direction led to needless worries and mistrust.

Sound execution starts with sound direction. You have to communicate your plan in a clear and direct manner, while ensuring that everyone understands your intent, vision, and mission. All members of the team must see how they fit into the scheme of maneuver and what is expected of them. Subordinate leaders and managers need to grasp the big picture, as well as the strategic, operational, and tactical success metrics, so they can make their own plans in a timely manner and communicate them in turn to their respective teams. A well-articulated and clearly communicated plan provides a framework for exercising judgment and initiative throughout the operation by everyone involved. This way, when inevitable changes occur, your followers can make the necessary adjustments to their plans and adapt quickly to the evolving competitive and environmental conditions.

Controlling: Making adjustments and staying on track

In common parlance, “control” has a connotation of micro managing to ensure implementation to exacting standards. Think of a pilot in a cockpit, acting on the flight controls so that the plane stays on course at the right altitude and the right speed. This is indeed one of the meanings of the term, but it also refers to the cybernetic mechanism whereby a system is more or less kept within certain bounds by feedback. This is the sense in which control is used in management, and certainly in the military, where it is often used conjointly with “command,” as in “command and control,” or C2.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower is reputed to have said, “A plan is nothing, but planning is everything,” or words to that effect. He was referring to the fact that planning provides a good starting point for action; but that reality inevitably upsets our best laid plans. Those executing the plan have a common framework for analyzing the evolving situation and can make adjustments on the fly, reacting to the enemy’s (or competitor’s) actions. It’s a never-ending cycle of action-reaction-counteraction. The only thing keeping the organization on track and operating cohesively and with unity of purpose is the original framework of mission, objectives, and general intent as well as the leader’s resolve and influence. Control feedback is the main signaling mechanism of the organization, conveying information to make adjustments to plans in a fast-moving and risky situation.

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.


  • Competence is the heart of leadership.
  • There are three types of competence: knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
  • People want to follow leaders who are competent and able to lead them to victory and achievement.
  • The Leadership Competence Pyramid three levels: management, inspiration, and change.
  • Management often gets short shrift or is seen in opposition to leadership, but it is an integral part of a leader’s competence toolkit.
  • The idea that you can be an effective leader while being a so-so manager is a myth. Leaders must be effective at planning, organizing, directing, executing, and controlling.
  • Knowledge is fairly easy to acquire, but what differentiates truly competent leaders is the ability to perform at and beyond expectations. This requires diligent and constant practice and skill development.
  • You need a growth mindset and a commitment to learning to lead and to develop your leadership competencies.
  • We can’t earn the respect and confidence of followers, peers, and superiors, unless we believe in ourselves and are truly committed to growth and improvement.
  • We need self-respect and self-efficacy to overcome the roadblocks to becoming truly effective leaders.
  • Confidence and respect are built over time by competent performance of our duties as leaders.

My name is Richard Martin and, as indicated by the title of this blog, I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

Last week I introduced the concept of self-similarity and showed its relevance for power law distributions. In this post I discuss the applicability of self-similarity in S-curves.

To recap briefly, self-similarity implies that a structure looks essentially the same at all levels of “magnification” or scale. You can zoom in on any part of a “power curve,” and it will look like… a power curve, with basically the same appearance as at the higher scale.

The same phenomenon can be seen in s-curves, with the difference that the scale invariance is less apparent, at least initially. The following diagram shows how each phase on an s-curve can be broken out into smaller, constituent s-curves at the next lower level. By extension, each of these subordinate s-curves can be parsed in the same, self-similar way. The structure is recursive and nested. If you want to grow, develop, or improve in any way, you must see it as a succession of s-curves at all levels of scale.


This is why I’ve titled this post “Growth is a stairway, not a high jump!”. You make progress in increments, climbing from one step to the next in a succession of achievable bounds. This breaks progress and improvement into (to paraphrase Neil Armstrong) a series of “one small step” moves so you can make “one giant leap” for your bigger purpose… or goals.

This is more manageable from a psychological standpoint as well as logistically. It also makes risk more manageable. As I illustrate in the following diagram, there are risks at each transition to a succeeding s-curve. Risk can arise from making a jump–even a small one–to a higher level of performance and engagement. It can also arise from a drop in performance at this critical juncture. We can seldom know and do everything that is needed at the new level. We need to learn–which is why progress is depicted as an s-curve in the first place. We start out with low performance at the new level and a high potential for mistakes. If we’re focused on learning from our mistakes and on improvement, we get progressively better until we hit the rapid growth stage, and continue up the “learning” curve from there on in. When we hit the inevitable plateau, we must jump–or drop–to the next curve.


The final point is that performance or growth can bog down or slip at any point, for any number of reasons. We can stop or slip back down the curve we’re already on. I call this regression. Even more consequential is when we drop back to a previous curve. I call this retrogression, and I’ve illustrated it in detail in the following diagram. It shows how you can fall from any performance level to any other, usually through neglect, over-confidence, smugness, or simply through inattention to changing conditions in the environment. For instance, new technology, new competitors, changing demographics, all these can make our current success or standing shaky or even irrelevant.


I don’t say this to be overly pessimistic, but rather realistic. Stasis is death. Movement is crucial. Business, life, performance, everything, they are what is called a “red queen” race. You have to work just to stay in place and work even harder to make progress, grow, develop, get better.

We’ll address these issues and many more in my coming posts under the topic of “Ideas,” so stay tuned to this space.

My name is Richard Martin and, as indicated by the title of this blog, I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

By Richard Martin, Expert in Business Readiness and Exploiting Change

One of the most useful ideas for conceptualizing any kind of change process is the S-curve. Perhaps you’ve seen one of these before. It looks like this:


The S-curve is the way natural and human phenomena grow and develop over time. For instance, the plot of a growth of bacteria or yeast in a laboratory follows the exact S-curve. Technically, it’s known as a logistic function, and when we plot it as a rate of growth, rather than cumulative growth, it forms a bell curve, although it doesn’t follow a normal, Gaussian, distribution. In other words, when something starts growing or spreading, it first starts very slowly, then it speeds up until it hits it hits a maximum, after which the growth/spread rate slows down until it basically tends to zero.

The S-curve approximates the cumulative growth or spread of just about any natural or man-made phenomenon, such as:

  • Penetration of a new market segment
  • Growth of new product/service category
  • Learning stages
  • Interest in topics
  • Abilities (which tend to plateau after a time)
  • Etc.

One of the more relevant business applications is in strategy formulation and execution. Take a look at the following S-Curve application. It shows how we can map the different phases of a product or market life cycle onto the S-curve. This gives an intuitive understanding that all good things must come to an end or, as I imply in the title of this piece, “What goes up, must (eventually) come down (or at least level off).”


New products or markets start as ideas, often as an external start up. I pluralize this because there should be a relatively high number of “experiments” and trials underway at any one time within a diversified company. Another strategy is to watch out for promising startups outside the business (or in an internal “skunkworks”) and then invest in them or simply acquire them once they start entering their rapid growth phase. Companies should have businesses (various combinations of product-market mix) in all stages of the life cycle in order to ensure a constant stream of growth generating ideas and strategic business units.

Another important phenomenon to note is the presence of a decline phase. Unless there is continuing investment in a business line or concept, it will eventually go into decline. We don’t necessarily know when, but we DO know it will happen at some point. This is another reason to be constantly replenishing the pipeline at the earlier life cycle stages of startup and rapid growth. The capital needed to invest in future ideas and growth will often come from the “milk cows” that are businesses in the maturity or plateau stage, although the latter can also provide a good source of financial capital through divestment.

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

I’ve developed the following model to guide leaders in when and how to be decisive, delegative, consultative, or participative.

Decisive-Participative Matrix
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.

Questions for turning circumstances to your advantage:

    • Failures: Where have we failed recently? What does that teach us? How can we extract value from that experience? What does it teach us about competitive threats and market opportunities?
    • Successes: What have been our recent successes? What caused them? Were they the result of design, or just plain luck? Did we exploit that luck or success? If not, how can we exploit it now? What does this tell us about market opportunities? Are we poised to exploit them?
    • Surprises: Have we been surprised recently? What happened that was totally unexpected? Did we exploit it, or shy away from it? What does this tell us about our strategy, objectives, and organizational ability to implement and exploit change?

Changing Situation: Has the situation changed? Are our goals still appropriate? If yes, then continue with existing plans. If not, then we need to rework original intent, objectives, and concept of operations to bring them into line with the new realities.

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