Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’


By Richard Martin, President, Canadian Academy of Leadership and Development of Human Capital

The Situation

Individuals in our societies spend significant time and resources watching or reading online media and content. We are not going back to the days of limited television options and a few (inter)national news sources. In younger generations, the scale of online participation is staggering as compared to older ones. This is because younger people do not rely on traditional, “mainstream” sources of information. They live in the ephemeral, evanescent world of social media and crowd-sourced content platforms, much of which is of doubtful provenance and intent.

The result is that younger people are flooded with competing or contradictory ideas, ideologies, and influences through social media, amplified by influencers of questionable association and intent; word of mouth; educational institutions; civil society organizations; advertising; and variant lifestyles. These messages are not necessarily (though many are) negative or corrosive of core civic values though an important portion do offer a narrative unsupportive or questioning of our stable, secure, liberal, prosperous democracies. Some channels and sources of information favour social disorder and subversion with the goal of undermining Western resilience, defence, values, and objectives.

Prominent social media platforms are the principal (though not exclusive) channels enabling the promotion of ideas and concepts that can erode the commitment to creating and sustaining peaceful and secure societies that value individual liberty, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law and which underlie the most prosperous societies in history. I believe these values are worth upholding, sustaining, and as required, defending. With that said, censorship and centralized control of information, whether public or private, are not the solution, as these go against the core values of the free, democratic, rules and rights-based order.

The Threat

Hostile powers and forces are relentlessly engaged in information operations to undermine the morale, resilience, and resolve of Western nations and their populations. Public awareness of this threat and its effects has increased since the invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, but the focus is on Russia, leaving other state-based and state-sponsored actors to operate relatively unhindered below the radar of the public, politicians, and businesses. On the other hand, this awareness is hazy, limited, and non-specific. Individuals and organizations have little understanding of hostile intentions, strategies, operational approaches, and the specific techniques, tactics, and procedures that are used to achieve hostile ends.

The threat goes well beyond cyberattacks, disinformation, and misdirection. In fact, we believe that we have entered a new phase of information warfare which I call “epistemological warfare.” The aim of epistemological warfare isn’t just to attack nations and their populations with false, misleading, obfuscating, or confusing information and propaganda. It goes much further by launching a full-scale assault on the critical faculties and judgment of friendly nations, populations, and leaders.

The techniques are many but focus mainly on eroding critical thinking by overwhelming the public sphere, especially through social media channels and platforms, with false, doubtful, or contradictory information presented in sound bites, images, video clips, and Internet “memes” that exploit and reinforce well-known cognitive biases and fallacies. These include everything from non sequitur and tu quoque fallacies, to psychological heuristics such as the primacy effect, the bandwagon effect, and others too numerous to list. The apparent goal is to erode the ability of individuals to judge what is true and false, whom and what to believe, and whom to support. This results in a cynical and nihilistic attitude toward the facts, intentions, and objectives presented by and for contending powers and forces and undermines support for a strong defence against hostile intent and activities.

The Strategy

The effort to build societal resilience, especially in succeeding generations, depends on the ability to provide concrete tools that can be used quickly and effectively to resist, counter, and evaluate the claims, evidence, statements, and arguments that form the basis for disinformation, propaganda, and other hostile information activities. This requires a rational, systematic approach to the problem, one based on clear outcomes, deliverables, and methods.

The key to long-term, enduring success in building societal resistance is to focus on the succeeding generation of current and potential leaders who will become influencers, opinion formers and decision makers in the areas of public policy and administration, diplomacy, communications, business, finance and banking, public safety, and the profession of arms.

The centre of gravity in this effort is to develop and disseminate an intellectual and psychological toolkit to current and future young leaders to undergird individual and collective analyses and evaluations concerning the logical soundness and validity of the various claims, evidence, propositions, rhetoric, and arguments that are inserted and disseminated in the public domain.

The best way to equip our youth for resilience in the face of withering attacks of information and epistemological warfare is to help them recognize the different types of activities, with a view to reformulating them according to logical principles to evaluate their probability and overall validity. By this means, leaders of the successor generation will be better equipped to apply their own judgment through proven processes and methods of reasoning that are resilient and invariant across domains, topics, platforms, and content.

© Richard Martin

By Richard Martin

Ukraine and Russia appear to have to diametrically opposite approaches to Information Warfare.

Ukrainian Information Operations

For consumption in Russia: See what your government is doing to your Ukrainian kin?

For consumption in Ukraine: Rally the people, armed forces, successes, how to pass on important information, leadership

For international consumption: Support us, we are fighting for YOU, and YOUR freedom, see what the Russians are doing?

The Ukrainian information strategy combines selective truth telling with the theme of Ukrainian heroism and resistance to Russian brutality tyranny and aggression.

Russian Information Operations

For consumption in Russia: Focus on internal IO to keep the people and forces onside.

For consumption in Ukraine: Sow panic, disinformation, misdirection, false flags, confusion, “we’re here to liberate you”

For international consumption: Generate distrust in ALL information, cynicism, nihilism

The Russian information strategy can be summed up as nihilistic. The idea is to sow the most fundamental doubts in the receiver’s mind about the reality of what they are seeing, reading, and hearing. It’s gaslighting on a massive scale. It’s basically about saying: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

© Richard Martin

Richard Martin was an infantry officer for over 20 years in the Canadian Army. He is currently an entrepreneur, strategic advisor, and information warrior focusing on extracting valuable information and signals from chaos and noise.

by Richard Martin

An acquaintance who is a business consultant raises an interesting point: This geopolitics thing is a lot harder than consulting. In fact, it’s a completely different paradigm, even though some of the tools and tactics may be superficially similar.

I served for 26 years in the Canadian Army. The profession of arms is about the reasoned application of force in the solution of a social problem. Social in the widest possible sense. There are no easy solutions. If there were, we wouldn’t be in the conundrum we are in.

While there are experts in logistics, communications, armament, intelligence analysis, operational planning, and even tactics and weapons handling, true military professionals the world over will tell you that there is no such thing as ultimate military and strategic expertise. You can study history, politics, geography, and economics all you want, but in the end you are dealing with mutable goals and motivations.

Plus, it all comes down to one simple principle: selection and maintenance of the aim. In American military terms, the principle of the objective. What is the goal, intent, outcome, end state, or any other way of expressing the end to be achieved? Everything depends on that.

Is the end to try to deal with Putin and Russia as good faith actors of the international community of nations? That was tried and didn’t work.

Is the end to deter Putin and Russia with superior arms and a credible threat that the cost of his gamble would outweigh the benefits? Obviously, that didn’t work either.

Now that battle has been joined, the US, Canada, UK, Germany, and all the NATO nations need to decide what the aim is, what the end must be. In the early days of NATO it was hard enough to get 12 countries to agree on something. Now there are 30 members, and the attack is not on a NATO country, although there are NATO allies who are feeling threatened right now.

I honestly don’t know what actions are to be taken, because I don’t know what the goals are. Those are matters for political decision, which is beyond the province of the profession of arms, diplomacy, and even economic and financial sanctions.

In a word, we need political will. A reminder, Clausewitz called war a clash of arms with the aim of imposing our will on the enemy. Who is the enemy, what is our aim?

© Richard Martin

Richard Martin is a veteran, thinker, educator, and trusted advisor. He focuses on extracting valuable signals from all the noise.

By Richard Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 Richard Martin

By Richard Martin

© Rotislav Sedlacek | 123 Stock Photo

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


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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the link to my July 2017 column on Defence Leadership. You can download a PDF version here: CDR Vol 23 Issue 4 July 2017 Times Have Changed

By Richard Martin

© Alexskopje | 123RF Stock Photo

The recent spate of natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes) have shown once again the need for readiness and resiliency for operational and business continuity. I’ve also been working with a client organization to review and upgrade its continuity programme. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind.

  • Readiness for business continuity is a leadership responsibility. It is a strategic concern and must be led by senior leadership and executed by the entire organization and its “chain of command.”
  • Business continuity is part of contingency planning and preparedness to respond and recover after prevention has failed. In other words, it’s part of your risk/threat mitigation strategy.
  • Insurance is needed to help recover and rebuild after a disaster or a crisis, but it can neither prevent nor mitigate the impacts as they unfold. That is where the entire preparedness and readiness programme come into play.
  • There are three phases to business continuity planning and management: preparation, response, and recovery. The preparation phase should always be in effect, and not just an afterthought.
  • Business continuity planning (BCP) must be conducted on a cyclical basis, for instance every year. It must be aligned with other normal management processes such as annual budgeting and capital planning so any required investments can be identified and adequately resourced.

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

Voir mon premier article pour le magazine Diplomat Investissement.

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

It’s common to provide rewards and (occasionally) punishments to inflect behaviour. For instance, my daughter works on telephone sales. When they reach their weekly goals, they receive a monetary incentive. There’s nothing wrong in principle with that, but judging by the fact that she’s gotten the reward just about every week since she started the job indicates to me that the reward is actually part of the basic compensation.

The problem is that people start to expect the reward. It’s like that scene in Christmas Vacation, where Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase’s character) learns that the annual Christmas bonus, normally given every year, is not forthcoming. He was so sure it was that he put money he didn’t have on a down payment for a pool. Much hilarity ensues.

It’s much better to motivate people from the inside out, through intrinsic motivation and transformational leadership. It’s essential to find what makes people tick, and what will truly motivate them emotionally, from the gut. That’s what I mean by leading from the inside out. Instead of finding ways to reward them or, much worse, punish them, look for what they’re passionate and truly care about. Create an emotional connection that goes to the heart of their concerns… and interests. Alternately, create an enticing vision and give them outcome-based goals that let them use their intellectual abilities and are stimulating and engaging.

You can always provide rewards after the fact for a job well done or performance beyond expectations. But it you go into the mission with a pre-ordained reward for a set level of achievement, that’s all you may get. Leading and influencing others from the inside out will get you much further than anticipated.

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