Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

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

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

My purpose in writing this series on leadership

What do I mean by leadership anyway?

Why the military approach to leadership is so powerful?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My purpose in writing this series on leadership

What do I mean by leadership anyway?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My purpose in writing this series on leadership

Why is the military approach to leadership so powerful?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do I mean by leadership anyway?

Why is the military approach to leadership so powerful?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

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

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

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

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

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:

My purpose in writing this series on leadership

What do I mean by leadership anyway?

Why is the military approach to leadership so powerful?

Chapter 1: Competence Is the Heart of Leadership

Like just about every Canadian boy, I played hockey. I wasn’t particularly good, but then again, I had fun most of the time and tried my best. I must have started playing minor hockey when I was about seven or eight years old. I can remember playing games where we would get dominated 21 to 1.

I eventually progressed to Peewee level, which was for 11 and 12 year-olds. In my second year at that level I couldn’t make the “A” team. I remember being relegated to the B squad and crying about it. My father was there to console me and let me know that I would have a lot more fun playing with other boys who were at my talent and skill level. Needless to say I was skeptical, but it turned out that Dad was right. As I look back on it now, the coaches who were responsible for these decisions must have talked to my father to brief him on the situation. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, but getting my father involved and putting me in the right team was crucial to my development as a player. I never developed enough of the skills to dream of anything beyond minor hockey in my house league. I like to tell people now that I had the uncanny ability to be were the puck was, not where it was going to be. I did become a pretty good skater though.

It turned out that the B team had a coach who was very dedicated to teaching us how to play. I’m sad to say I can’t remember that man’s name, but I do remember the leadership and positive influence he had on all of us boys. Being the B team meant that we had little access to the municipal arenas for practice. We were often the last ones to get a bus to go to our league games. I lived in a rural area in eastern Ontario, and we would often have to drive 20 miles or more to get to a game.

Despite our second-class status, this man was determined to teach us how to play hockey well enough to be competitive in our league, to have fun, to hone our skills, and to give us a taste of what true team spirit and competition was like. He wasn’t just a terrific coach; he was also a mentor, a role model, and most important of all, a first-class leader.

I can’t remember how many times we were shut out of using the local arenas for our practice sessions. Instead of just complaining about it, he built a rink in his back yard. One time, it must have been on a Saturday, it was snowing and windy. We practiced on his rink for about two hours during the morning. Then let us all into his house and his wife served us spaghetti and hot dogs. After lunch we were back on the ice for another intense practice session. It didn’t register in this 12-year-old’s mind at the time, but that was a superb example of dedication and persistence.

The most revealing moment though came one day when we had a big game in a small town about 20 miles away. For some reason the minor hockey association had cancelled our bus to get to the opposing team’s home arena. Undaunted, our coach told us all to get dressed in all our equipment, minus the skates. He had a flatbed truck with wooden side panels and packed us all in the back and covered us with an old tarp. I don’t think too many parents would be impressed with the safety of such a maneuver nowadays, but back then nobody seemed to think it was particularly dangerous. After all, it was only about 10o C and snowing!

This coach didn’t just teach us how to play hockey. He also taught us team spirit, the value of demanding training, persistence, and a winning attitude. Even more compelling for me now, is that he showed us what a real leader is. Someone who makes sacrifices for the good of the team, shows the way, leads by example, and is dedicated to raising everyone to their full potential. None of us was going to be a pro, nor make it into a higher caliber amateur league, but he certainly made sure that we got the most out of that fleeting experience.

I’d like to say I was appreciative of this man’s (and others’) efforts and leadership at a very formative period of my life. Unfortunately, being a completely normal, self-centered teenager and then young adult, I promptly forgot about my Peewee hockey coach, that team, and that whole time in my life. It was only when I retired from the army after a 26-year career as an infantry officer that I looked back on the most formative experiences of my life, those that had impressed me and molded me, that I recalled that exciting year of hockey and the influence of that coach and the team had on me.

I also thought of other formative experiences, not just during my childhood and youth, but also throughout my military career. I realized that just about everything I had learned about influence, persistence, morale, sacrifice, and leadership had come about as a result of significant, shaping events, and the people who had led me, given me coaching, mentoring, instruction, and even well-deserved criticism and the occasional scolding.

Naturally, I think of that Peewee hockey coach. But I also think of when I was an officer in training, of the time when I saw an older cadet apologizing to another one for a having forgotten a task he had promised him. That little incident taught me more about humility and a willingness to recognize my faults than any psychology course or lecture on learning from our mistakes. I was encouraged through that to appreciate the value of contrition and admitting my failings, instead of becoming angry and pushing back for nothing.

I also think of the commanding officer in the army who taught us that the key to being a successful leader and officer wasn’t to be liked, but was instead to be respected. I recall another senior officer who recognized my talents and abilities and who encouraged me to take the initiative and to “fill my boots,” as we used to say in the army. There were also bad examples and experiences I would rather forget. Not, as you might think, related to operations or combat, but rather to poor leadership by superiors, peers, and subordinates. Oddly enough, though, these negative events and bosses have faded quickly into the background. They have influenced me by showing me what not to do, rather than what to do. But I can also say that it’s the positive role models, experiences, and events that have taught me the most about myself and about the fundamentals of leadership.

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

We seem to live in an era when words are more like bullets—a way to injure and defeat others, to get one’s own way—than a way to communicate in a genuine manner, seeking understanding, insight, and mutual respect.

As I write this, the Paris climate summit is underway. We have just about all the countries in the world represented and we’re told this is the “last chance” to “save the planet.” Last chance. Really? Save the planet? I would think the planet doesn’t need us to “save” it. But, like the gospel inspired song said of That Lucky Old Sun, the earth will surely go on rolling around heaven all day. We may be in danger of disrupting our habitat or of damaging it beyond repair (that remains to be seen), such that we, as a species might be endangered. However, a cursory review of earth’s evolution over geological eons will show that it’s been through much worse before and life has gone on.

The zeal with which enviro-enthusiasts (or should I say fascists?) are claiming that it’s our last chance to keep the planet’s temperature from rising by more than 2 degrees is more religious than scientific. The same can be said of the attempts to claim a scientific consensus, as if scientists all agree with everything that’s claimed about environmentalists.

There may be a scientific consensus about the law of gravity, or evolution through natural selection, because the empirical evidence is overwhelming in favour of those theories. I doubt there is even close to the same level of agreement within the climatological community, which is really the only one that counts scientifically. And yet we keep hearing that 95 % of scientists, or whatever the figure is, believe that global warming is a reality. That may be the case, but being a scientist doesn’t automatically qualify someone to judge the validity of scientific theories outside their field of expertise. Just talk to medical doctors with different specialties to see how divergent the knowledge, skills, and judgment are on any particular illness or condition to realize how important these specialized competencies are to coming to a proper diagnosis and prognosis, much less the best treatment plan.

I’m not necessarily a skeptic about climate change and human-caused warming. However, there has been too much environmental change over the eons on earth to claim any kind of stasis in the matter. After all, what caused the end of the most recent ice age 10 or 12 thousand years ago? Perhaps the woolly mammoths and giant ground sloths were expelling too much methane as they chewed their cud. And what caused the planet to plunge into a deep freeze 130 thousand years ago when the current ice age started?

On the other hand, I am a skeptic when it comes to claims that “the science is settled.” Moreover, I find the current climate (pun intended) against questioning this so called common sense consensus to be a dangerous trend. It’s also very convenient for those with a statist centralizing agenda who wish to restrain economic growth and capitalism, because they claim they are the cause of global warming, at least indirectly. How convenient that there be a such an apocalyptic menace for our collective well-being. Nothing less than total war is needed to combat impending doom. And in war, all manner of propaganda and control mechanisms are warranted to defeat the common enemy. Many of the poorest countries in the world are already clamoring for a transfer of wealth from the wealthy countries to pay for African wind farms and human scale solar power units. After all, nothing should be excluded in order to “save the planet,” because this is our “last best chance.” Once again, I’m not arguing against such a wealth transfer (although there are good arguments against one). But I don’t think that haranguing people into feeling guilty is the correct way to go about it.

The use of language as a weapon and words as bullets is just as pernicious in other areas. Activists—or should I say bullies—at the University of Ottawa have gotten management to discontinue free yoga lessons for handicapped people on the grounds that yoga is “cultural appropriation.” In other words, they claim that you can’t use any idea or activity that comes from another culture if that culture was at one time subjugated by another. Presumably, the reference is to British imperialism in India. Is it okay to have Indian cuisine, or Chinese food? Can we Zumba, or do the limbo? After all, they come from Latin America and the Caribbean, originally all slave societies.

Just to be egalitarian, I don’t think war mongers come off any better. The Islamist inspired attacks in Paris, the Middle East and anywhere else are horrible and the Jihadist threat must be met militarily and politically with appropriate means and strategy. But I don’t think we’re in a “war on terror” any more than we’re engaged in wars on inequality, cultural appropriation, climate change, or global capitalism.

Language and words should help us understand and think better, not separate us into sloganeering tribes with faith-based creeds and intolerant beliefs. After all, words aren’t bullets.

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.

12 techniques to self-improvement:

  1. Adopt and maintain the growth mindset.
  2. View your successes and failures as feedback for learning.
  3. Study the objective standards of your field, profession or organization.
  4. Observe and emulate positive role models.
  5. Practise self-knowledge in order to assess your leadership against objective standards.
  6. Practise self-awareness so you can witness your behavior, thinking, and performance on a
    moment-to-moment basis and adjust these accordingly.
  7. Create a vision of how you wish to lead in the future, and then determine what competencies
    and traits you will need to achieve that vision.
  8. Assess your past performance as a leader so you can draw lessons learned for now and the
    future.
  9. Identify where you are on the learning curve for the particular competencies you need in
    leadership. Are you at the initial awareness stage, making rapid progress, reaching diminishing
    returns, plateauing, or in decline? What is needed to move to the next stage of leadership
    competence?
  10. What is the next learning curve for you? What are the most likely risks and opportunities you
    face when making the leap to the next curve?
  11. What are your top leadership strengths and your center of gravity? Develop a strategy to
    exploit your center of gravity.
  12. What are your top leadership limitations and vulnerabilities? What is your strategy to manage
    these limitations, depending on the situation and the people you are leading?

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.