Posts Tagged ‘Military Lessons’

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.

By Richard Martin

Source: Canadian Armed Forces

Leadership is the art of influencing others to get things done in the manner and to ends desired by the leader. The biggest challenge comes not in figuring out what to do, or even in how to do it, but rather in communicating your intent and actually getting people to implement it and achieve desired results.

Companies–small, medium, and large–can have this problem, even those with sophisticated, complex operations and processes. I call this the “disconnect problem”: There is a break between what goes on in a leader’s brain and what happens on the ground to achieve the mission and vision. The resulting gap leaves the organization open to distorted information transfer, mutual incomprehension, corrosive conflict, and other forms of friction.

How can a leader overcome this disconnect problem, and get from her intent to her desired outcomes? There are a few basics that have to be respected. First, there must be a clearly articulated mission with a concrete vision of the end state or desired outcome. This aim must be articulated into supporting objectives which are in turn broken into specific functions and tasks.

The resulting work hierarchy then becomes the framework for assigning responsibilities, authority and accountability, along with the resources and supporting structures and systems to get the job done. It isn’t enough to browbeat people or simply set goals and make compensation depend on their satisfactory achievement. This is a necessary but non-sufficient condition for attaining the aim.

When I went through leadership and command and staff training the army, we had to learn how to “assign troops to tasks.” We were taught–and realized through experience–that things only get done when you have a reasonably good understanding of the mission and effort involved, but also when the work is actually assigned to real people, along with the weapons, vehicles, equipment, ammunition and combat stores to achieve assigned tasks. Otherwise, it’s all just wishful thinking.

Are you just browbeating people into implementing your intent, or do you have a clearly articulated plan, with specific assignment of responsibilities and enablers? If the former, then start now to be more specific in transforming your intentions into actionable direction on the ground. If the latter, then refine your approach and ensure that all levels in your team are doing the same. Also, seek to apply “troops to tasks” to all areas of endeavour within your organization.

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

by Richard Martin

© Kheng Guan Toh

I’ve been answering questions lately (from my daughters, among others) about the threat of war, specifically nuclear war. This obviously comes from the worries about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and intentions, as well as American ones.

Although this concerns military strategy and geopolitics, the underlying analytical approach can be applied to any consideration of threats, whether a generic SWOT analysis, or the evaluation of a specific security or competitive menace.

Threat analysis goes beyond risk analysis. Risk is the product of the probability and impact of a negative event or cause. Risks are usually categorized under three headings: natural, technological, and human. Focusing on the last, there are criminality, security, labour conflict and many other sub-categories of human originated risks. The problem, however, comes in evaluating the likelihood of a human risk. If we are considering only generic risks, we can talk about probability and impact in abstract terms. For instance, what is the probability of a criminal act? We can use statistics about, say, white collar crime in corporate settings as a starting point for assessing the risk. There are statistics describing the probability of certain acts in certain situations along with average impacts (including their statistical distribution).

But how can we assess a specific threat where there is no historical or statistical data to illuminate the analysis? That’s where military-style threat analysis can be very useful. Military threats are broken into two parts: capability and intent. Capability is self-explanatory: What can the potential or actual enemy do? What are the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of his forces? How many tanks can he deploy? How many aircraft? In the case of North Korea, how many nuclear bombs, of what type, and through what means can they be delivered? I discussed this at length in early September with Dr. Sean Maloney of RMC, an expert on nuclear history and strategy.

While there is uncertainty in capability assessment, at least we’re dealing with tangible realities. Intent is a completely different ballgame. How do we know what the enemy will do? How will he react to our own threats or efforts at conflict resolution? These are imponderables and we must consider a range of scenarios to determine the inevitable commonalities that arise in each, so we can prepare for them. We must also examine the action-reaction cycles that occur because of the moves and countermoves by both sides.

An analogous approach can be used in analyzing and assessing business threats, even though the stakes are obviously of a completely different order and importance. Whether you’re trying to assess your competitors’ next moves, or your market’s reception of your new product, you can learn a lot by considering the threat as both capability and intent. This allows you to disentangle what is possible (given assessed capabilities) from what is probable (given assessed intentions) over a range of scenarios. The insight gained can then be incorporated into your own strategy and contingency planning.

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

by Richard Martin

Here is an easy to use four-step to help in readiness for anything, any time.

Step 1: Mobilize

  • Confirm situation and mission
  • Do time estimate
  • Activate team and support network
  • Prepare equipment, dress, “ammunition”
  • Inform “troops”

Step 2: Reconnaissance

  • Terrain (market)
  • Objective (client, goal)
  • Enemy (competitors)
  • Weather (context, conditions)

Step 3: Plan

  • Aim, factors, options, decision, plan
  • Tactics: frontal, flanking, bypass manoeuvres
  • Exploit/protect centre of gravity
  • Economize and mass for optimal impact
  • Pit strengths against weaknesses, exploit gaps

Step 4: Deploy

  • Brief team, supporters, colleagues
  • Initial and final rehearsals
  • Update plan, develop contingency plans
  • Final preparation – material and psychological
  • Morale – How is your will to win?

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

 

by Richard Martin

Back in March I put out a Strategic Readiness Bulletin titled “Is Canada Facing an Incipient Refugee Crisis?

The situation has evolved to the point where the Canadian Forces have been tasked to set up a temporary reception centre near the Quebec-US border. Asylum-seekers are being temporarily lodged in Olympic Stadium and the old Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and RCMP have sent reinforcements south of Montreal to help with the overflow of migrants arriving on foot at the border. Most are of Haitian origin, but it seems that other nationalities may also be arriving and that the mix could very well change quickly.

You can surmise from reading my bulletin, referenced above, that this situation was entirely predictable, if not in its specifics, then at least in outline. I don’t think we’re at a crisis point yet, but that could develop rapidly, as we saw when the same thing happened in Europe two summers ago.

A crisis occurs when you lose control of a situation, and you are constantly reacting to conditions rather than shaping them. If at any point border crossings or reception and housing facilities are overwhelmed, then it will be a crisis.

The question at this point is whether plans and actions can be undertaken now to prevent and/or mitigate these possibilities. Organisations must stay ahead of events by envisaging various scenarios and possibilities and implementing plans and measures to cater to them, before they occur.

And this isn’t just a federal or provincial government responsibility. Municipalities, private businesses and non-profits can be affected. Some small municipalities are already being stretched by the demands of reacting to the situation.

If you are running a business, can this affect you? What if you are near a border area, or have clients in the US, or depend on shipments to and from the US? Could you be affected. I talk more about this in the bulletin, so you should definitely check it out.

Also, here are some other articles I’ve written over the years that you may find of interest, especially for interagency cooperation and planning.

Five Myths About Crises: Why we’re surprised by unsurprising things.

Crisis? What Crisis?: The type of crisis we’re facing, and how it is likely to unfold.

Mobilizing for Readiness: What you need to do to mobilize your team or organization.

Proven Techniques for Crisis Leadership: Leading effectively before, during, and after a crisis.

Battle-Proven Principles for Disaster Leadership: The focus of this article was disaster management, but there is a lot of good information, especially for public agencies.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. Reproduction and sharing permitted for non-commercial reasons.

By Richard Martin

Business leaders must constantly decide on how much time to devote to future planning versus present action. The needs of day-to-day management and decision-making tend to swamp us as leaders and managers. We get caught up in immediate, tactical issues, and lose sight of the bigger picture, where we are ultimately headed, and what we will do once they we there.

Should we focus on immediate goals and problems, or should we live more in the future, even to the point of only considering our long-term vision and development of our organizations? At extremes, we could devote all our time and resources to the present or, conversely, we could be pure “visionaries.” In fact, wisdom lies somewhere in between, neither being purely myopic nor purely far-sighted. But how should we make this decision, and how do we determine when and how much they need to shift our attention from the near to the medium to the long term?

The key lies in what I call the “future paradox.” Some decisions and actions will have immediate or short-term results. Others will take longer to come to fruition, even to the extent of taking years before they are fully actualized and the results are in. This can generate a significant lag between decision, action, and results, between cause and effect. The problem comes from this lag.

We can’t afford to be stuck in the present, but the further out we look, the less the definition and clarity, the greater the uncertainty. Present commitments and decisions are essential to build future readiness and achieving distant objectives, but these may severely constrain our future freedom of action.

 

This is the future paradox: We must decide and act now to generate short-, medium-, and long-term effects, but we can only do this with increasingly fuzzy knowledge and information. In other words, change takes time, but conditions can and do change between our decision point and the time that our actions start taking effect.

We have a current reality and we articulate a vision of where we want to be in the future. This vision is nothing but the overarching objective of our undertaking. To speak in military terms, it can be to win a war or achieve an peaceful outcome in our nation’s interests. But it can also be to capture a road crossing and then be ready to face a counter-attack. In business, it can be a strategic goal, for instance to launch a major international expansion, or it can be much more mundane and tactical, for instance to win a contract with a new client. It is the future vision that drives most of our decisions. The gap between the objective and the current reality is the fuel for planning and decision-making. It frames our actions in the short, medium, and long terms. Over time, we should approach—and eventually arrive—at our ultimate destination, our vision, or overarching objective.

Some things we can do relatively easily and quickly. These decisions lead to short-term plans and actions. Others take more preparation and lead time. These are our medium-term plans and actions. Finally, some things we must start right away, with a view to gaining results only in the longer-term future. For instance, we can be facing a decision on whether to invest in a new factory. We must secure the capital and start the building or acquisition process now, but it can take months or years before the new facility comes on line. This requires a long-term plan and actions.

To make matters even more complex, though, the definition of short, medium, and long terms depends on the scope of responsibilities and roles. For a large company, the long-term can be, in some cases, decades. For a sales person or a production team, it can be tomorrow or next week. It is the scope of activities and effects that determines the extent of the time horizons under consideration.

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

by Richard Martin

Strategy is the set of actions undertaken by any entity that is striving to survive and thrive in the face of change, uncertainty, risk, and opposition.

There are two basic strategic postures: defence and offence. Defence consists in temporarily conceding the initiative to an opponent to buy time and reconstitute one’s forces.

Offence consists in seizing and maintaining the initiative to achieve one’s ends through:

  • confrontation (i.e., direct action against antagonists to resolve a conflict or otherwise achieve one’s objectives);
  • competition (indirect action against antagonists by letting a third party decide in a competitive arena); or
  • cooperation (combining forces with other actors to achieve mutually compatible or synergistic interests and effects).

These four basic options–conceding, confronting, competing, and cooperating–constitute the building blocks of any strategy.

This is important, because it entails that there are always options when confronted by opposition, resistance, or obstacles of any kind. We can build a strategy that leverages our strengths while mitigating our vulnerabilities and that is not limited to confrontation or aggressive posturing.

So, before embarking on a strategic decision, you should always consider the four options with their potential benefits and costs, as well as their possible and probably consequences.

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