Posts Tagged ‘Management’

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

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

My purpose in writing this series on leadership

What do I mean by leadership anyway?

Why the military approach to leadership is so powerful?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday STAND TO!

By Richard Martin, Expert in Business Readiness and Exploiting Change

Do you try to mould your future and create the conditions for your success, or do you instead remain passive while others seize the initiative?

The whole point of Business Readiness is to “take the bull by the horns” and shape your competitive battle space for you and your customers. This isn’t simple P&P (preparation and planning). It’s about vigilance, preparedness, and robustness so you see, assess, respond, act, and pounce on opportunities before others see them.
Situational Awareness
Step 1 of the Business Readiness Process (BRP) is…

Vigilance through constant Situational Awareness. Situational awareness requires systems, procedures, and mindset to be on the lookout for changes and trends at all levels–strategic, operational, tactical–of your business and organizational environment. This includes keeping eyes on:

  • Changing customer needs and wants
  • Changing political, social, demographic, cultural milieu
  • Technology, finance, economic factors, etc.
  • Competitors and other stakeholders, including changing alliances, support, and opposition to your goals and strategies
Think of how effective non-business opposition to Keystone XL,
Northern Gateway, and other pipelines has been.
Could this have been anticipated?
Could the companies involved have managed the situation better?
Could they have assessed their courses of action better?
You need…
  1. A consistent and constant watch and evaluation system.
  2. A method and the right mindset and motivation in you and your people.
  3. To decide if this changes your mission and objectives or whether you need to update them.
It starts at the top. If you’re not open to change and ignore signs of imminent disruption, how can you expect your team members to be engaged and motivated for it?
Business Readiness Process (BRP)
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.


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?
Feel free to contact me at any time to discuss your objectives and needs.
And remember… STAND TO!!!

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc.

This article may be forwarded, reproduced, or otherwise referenced for non-commercial use with proper attribution. All other rights are reserved and explicit permission is required for commercial use.

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

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

My purpose in writing this series on leadership

What do I mean by leadership anyway?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My purpose in writing this series on leadership

Why is the military approach to leadership so powerful?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The “Power Law” is one of the most useful concepts for making predictions and decisions in business and management.

The power law shows how two variables–one dependent, the other independent–covary. Mathematically, one varies as a function of the other by being raised to a certain power (exponent).

The following diagram shows this type of relationship. Often these are depicted on log or log-log graphs, but I show the “power curve” as an asymptote on both axes of the graph to highlight the non-linearity of the relationship between the two variables.

power-law-basic

A concrete example will help. The great majority of earthquakes are of very low magnitude. High magnitude earthquakes are much rarer than low magnitude earthquakes. In fact, their magnitude varies in inverse exponential proportion to the total number of earthquakes. In practice, this means that there are literally thousands of earthquakes every day around the world, but magnitude 6, 7, and 8 ones are much rarer. The most powerful earthquakes of all, over 9 on the Richter, scale are very rare. They can happen only a few times a century, or even less. This doesn’t mean that the magnitude of any particular earthquake can be predicted. It does however imply that given a sufficiently large sample, we will eventually see a frequency-magnitude distribution that resembles the graph above.

This type of relationship is ubiquitous in nature, and that includes our human and social natures. There was a whole book written on this topic–The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson–with emphasis on the right side of the graph. In his book, Anderson described how the internet has made many businesses or ideas viable which would not previously even have been known. He called this the long tail because there are musicians, artists, artisans, crafts workers, professionals, etc. who can provide their productions and services to people around the world, even though they can’t compete with the more traditional providers who dominate markets by occupying the left side of the power curve. This makes for much more diversity and many more opportunities to get known and appreciated, and to develop a following because it lowers traditional barriers to entry and long-term viability.

This type of relationship is also depicted in the following diagram. I show the relationship between number of clients and the number purchases, interactions, or value of each category of client that characterizes the market and product distributions of most, if not all, companies (including my own clients).

power-law-of-clients-and-value

For instance, I’ve been working with a banking client. This graph shows the relationship between number of clients and the number of products/services that each client has with the bank. The total market size for this bank is about 80,000 potential users of its services. Of these potential users of its services, the great majority, about 85 %, have no business relationship with the bank. Of the 13,000 or so that do use the bank’s services, the majority only use less than 3 of over 20 products and services. As we move to the right, there are less clients, but their interactions with the bank are more intensive. In other words, there are are many fewer clients in categories to the right, but they use many more of the bank’s services, which in turn generate much greater value. On the other hand, there are no actual clients who do all of their banking and meet all of their financial needs and objectives, much less use all of the bank’s services. This is why we can depict the lower right part of the curve as an asymptote. You never actually reach complete saturation or use.

We’ve all noticed these types of power-law relationships in our professional and personal lives, our management and business experiences, and even in some natural phenomena. This relationship is often referred to as the 80/20 law, Pareto’s Law, or Zipf’s Law. It shows up in such truisms as: 80 % of my problems are caused by 20 % (rates can vary) of my people; most of my sales and profits come from a small number of sales reps; only a few of my clients provide most of my revenue and profits; this product category accounts for 45 % of my sales, but 70 % of my profits; etc., etc.

The following diagram is a further illustration of the principle. It comes from an online article by Mark McLean of the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) and shows an almost perfect example of a power-law distribution in the number of deals done by different categories of real estate agents who are members of TREB.  We can see that only a very small number of agents in TREB can be considered highly successful, prolific even.

treb-gif

Of those agents having completed 6 or less deals in a year, a similar relationship holds, although it’s less stark:

treb-6-and-under

Whatever we wish to call them, power-law distributions and relationships underlie much of the correlations and dynamics that surround us. We can use them in making general predictions and, along with the S-curve phenomenon I described in a previous post, we have two very powerful tools and concepts for understanding the world around us. Moreover, power laws and S-curves are not only ubiquitous, they tend to show what’s called “self-similarity,” or a fractal pattern. I’ll discuss that third powerful concept next week.

© 2016 Alcera Consulting Inc.

This article may be forwarded, reproduced, or otherwise referenced for non-commercial use with proper attribution. All other rights are reserved and explicit permission is required for commercial use.

We live in an era of quick fixes and tsunami-like trends and fashions. It’s easy to become enamoured of the latest management and leadership fads. The first one goes back to the 1950s.

First introduced and advocated by Peter Drucker, “management by objectives” was based on the idea was that roles and functions should be analyzed into separate tasks and components and then assigned to managers as clear results-oriented objectives.

It’s still the basis of most delegation and responsibility assignments. In the military it’s called “mission command.” Both are based on the entirely reasonable idea that initiative, creativity, and job satisfaction are maximized when people are told what to do (what is expected in performance/output terms) and the reasons for doing so. They then can use their freedom of action to find the best ways and means to achieve the objectives.

Unfortunately, management and business strategy are prone to bouts of fashion, imitation, and fads. One year it’s “blue ocean strategy,” the next it’s “edge” strategy. One month it’s “servant” leadership, the next it’s “holocracy,” or some other such facile characterization of organizational and business dynamics and challenges.

We need to get back to basics and adopt a perspective that operates from an underlying understanding of human behaviour and psychology. Management by objectives, mission command, or whatever you want to call these approaches, they all rely on parsing out responsibilities, authorities, and accountabilities on the basis of a rational analysis of projects and objectives. Everything else is noise.

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

Everything has advantages and disadvantages, and no amount of hype and fashion-mania can eliminate that basic law of nature.

I’ve been reading (and rereading) books by Vaclav Smil. He’s a professor at University of Manitoba who is a world renowned expert on energy, energy flows, and modern industrial society. He analyzes claims about various industrial processes and energy conversions and uses in terms of their technicalities. More important, though, is that he highlights the advantages and disadvantages of each of these options and practices. There is no “perfect” energy conversion or industrial process. All we have are positive effects and negative effects, cost and benefits, opportunities and risks.

This resembles the way I was trained to develop and assess tactical, operational, and strategic plans and manoeuvres in the Army. You first must know what your realistic options are. Then you develop them sufficiently to identify key advantages and disadvantages, costs and benefits, and opportunities and risks. There is no free lunch, much less a perfect option or plan.

If someone comes along telling you they’ve got the perfect solution or a cost-free alternative, you’re better to treat them as a snake oil salesman, because what they’re selling is akin to a perpetual motion machine.

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