What’s the Word?

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What does the frequency of the use of certain words tell us about a given organization?  Can the frequent use of a word reveal an institutional focus?  Think of any organization to which you have belonged – what word or words would show up most often in its written communications?  If you were to “control F” search all of these documents which words would show up most frequently?  Would the words most used align with the organizations self image?  Would they align with the leader’s vision for the organization?

Our military is very fond of a quote to the effect of: “The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis.”  This quote is always attributed to “A German General” but I think some American made it up at some point simply because I think that it is not true and that a German General would know enough to know that 1) it isn’t true and 2) the German Army were the real masters of performing in chaos.   An analogous quote is also attributed to some unknown German of high rank… “A serious problem in planning against American doctrine is that the Americans do not read their manuals, nor do they feel any obligation to follow their doctrine.”  We really love these quotes.  We put them on t-shirts and paint them on the walls of our military offices… trouble is they may not be true.  The fact that American servicemen love these quotes so much might tell you much more about the sort of organization we wish we belonged to  than it does about the organization we actually belong to.

In fact, Jörg Muth, the author of a recent book on American Command Culture  Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War , (review here) made some interesting observations about American Command Culture as discussed in an article available at Foreignpolicy.com.  “If the most important verb and the most important noun should be found for the U.S. Army and the Wehrmacht according to the vast amount of manuals, regulations, letters, diaries and autobiographies I have read they would be ‘to manage’ and ‘doctrine’ for the U.S. Army and führen (to lead) and Angriff (attack) for the Wehrmacht. Such a comparison alone points out a fundamentally different approach to warfare and leadership.”   So, according to Mr. Muth, history and our own writings show us that it was the Germans, not the American army who were masters of chaos and the Americans who were rigid and inflexible.  Muth’s thesis is supported by the older and very widely read research and writings of both Martin Van Crefeld and Trevor Dupuy.

So, what are your organizations “words”?  Do those words indicate an organizational focus that matches your brand?

 

 

Leading Diverse Teams

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General William Slim as Commander of the 14th Army chats with Air Commodore Vincent, Commander of  221 Group RAF and Lieutenant-General Scoones, Commander of the IV Indian Corps, before meeting American generals. 1944

How does a leader bridge the gaps of religion, language and culture to build a cohesive and effective team with people from vastly different cultures?

 

Allies are really very extraordinary people.  It is astonishing how obstinate they are, how parochially minded, how ridiculously sensitive to prestige and how wrapped up in obsolete political ideas.  It is equally astonishing how they fail to see how broad-minded you are, how clear your picture is, how up-to-date you are and how cooperative and big-hearted you are.  It is extraordinary!  Let me tell you, when you feel like that about your allies, just remind yourself of two things:  First, that you are an ally too, and that all allies look just the same.  If you walk to the other side of the table, you will look just like that fellow sitting opposite.  The next thing to remember is that there is only one thing worse than having allies – that is not having allies.”

– Field Marshall William Slim

       We hear every day that our world is increasingly interconnected and that the teams we work with and lead are more diverse.  What does this mean for organizational leaders?  What unique leadership challenges do diverse organizations pose?  Why is leadership in these settings so extremely demanding?  How do we achieve that alignment of purpose without a common context?

       Successful leadership of diverse teams requires creating a new group culture and shared purpose.  Leading coalitions is a challenge as old as Western civilization itself.  Our greatest cultural heroes from Achilles to the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc were part of warrior coalitions.  Those great armies shared values and a culture that brought the Greeks and the Allied powers together against the common enemies of their times.  While historical coalitions usually enjoyed the blessings of common languages, cultures, and values, today’s organizations are often far more diverse and have fewer shared values with much less in common culturally.  Leading diverse organizations can be more challenging and often requires leaders to create a shared purpose and culture out of whole cloth where none exists.  Often lacking true unity of command, coalition leaders must create unity of effort through commitment based influence founded on mutual trust and respect.

The primacy of personal influence is something most civilians miss when studying military leaders.  Hollywood gives the idea that men march off to their deaths because another man with one or two more chevrons tells him to.  This misses the mark badly.  Men follow a leader out of something much closer to love and earned respect.”

Case Study Burma 1943 The Forgotten Army:

        The 14th Army’s triumph in British India under the leadership of Field Marshall William Slim offers a study in effective leadership of an incredibly diverse organization under the most difficult conditions.  Following many months of severe Allied losses and setbacks in the theatre, Slim took command of the newly created 14th Army in Burma in 1943.  The 14th Army was composed of over one million men from all corners of the earth.  They came from the armies of India, Nepal, Africa, China, the United Kingdom and its commonwealth nations, and the United States.  Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists who spoke countless different languages found a home in its ranks.  At best, this sounds like the set up for a bad joke about “walking into a bar…” at worst, it is certainly a recipe for rancor and discord.  Imagine the difficulties in leading such an organization under the best of circumstances…  Slim understood that all of these differences would make command of the army very challenging.  However, he grasped the importance of personal influence and building a common purpose and possessed a style of leadership well suited to his new command.  This made all the difference and allowed the 14th Army to accomplish the nearly impossible.

       In a speech to officers at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College many years after the war, which Brady already mentioned in his post on Slim’s Qualities of a Commander, Slim defined Command as “…the projection of personality…that mixture of example, persuasion, and compulsion by which you get men to do what you want them to do, even if they do not want to do it themselves.”  You see, Slim understood that he could not rely on his position and rank to afford him sufficient influence.  Success for the 14th Army required personal, commitment-based influence and a shared sense of purpose.  Slim had to create that.  As Army commander, he made an effort to visit each battalion in his million-man army to speak personally with his soldiers.  He shared with them, in one on one conversations, often in their native tongue, his goals and vision and tried to learn from this diverse group what he could of their cultures, motivations and values.  Slim made an express priority of conveying his vision and purpose directly to his soldiers despite the army’s incredibly vast dispersion and size.  He did this because he believed the foundations of morale were “spiritual, intellectual, and material in that order.”[1]  He envisioned an army where each soldier believed his work was directly linked to the accomplishment of an attainable and noble goal in which leaders valued their men’s lives and placed an emphasis on providing as best they could for the soldier’s needs.[2] This was truly revolutionary stuff for a British commander of his generation to think and say.  “He believed that be they British, Indian, Gurkha or African, if they were told the reason for fighting, the justice of the cause and the importance of beating the enemy, and were kept in the picture … they would respond with enthusiasm.”[3]  He communicated his vision.  Slim’s success shows the profound power of creating shared values, a shared organizational culture, and providing a shared purpose and vision.  The most successful organizations today understand this as well.

Command is the projection of personality…that mixture of example, persuasion, and compulsion by which you get men to do what you want them to do, even if they do not want to do it themselves.”  – Slim

    British_commander_and_Indian_crew_encounter_elephant_near_Meiktila

        The primacy of personal influence is something most civilians miss when studying military leaders.  Hollywood gives the idea that men march off to their deaths because another man with one or two more chevrons tells him to.  This misses the mark badly.  Men follow a leader out of something much closer to love and an earned respect.  Greatness in the most demanding circumstances can only be accomplished through a leader with strong personal influence with his soldiers.  This concept has been discussed at length in business and management circles for some time.  Slim understood this better than most.  He recognized that his positional power as a British Field Marshall and Army Commander would not be sufficient to lead his new army.

       Slim’s interactions with the American Lt.Gen. Joseph Stilwell demonstrated the power of his personal influence.  General Stilwell, the commander in chief of all U.S. forces in the region, had a reputation as a maverick, eccentric, and borderline insubordinate, if brilliant, commander.  The man’s personality was such that his nickname was “Vinegar Joe.”  Draw your own conclusions… If there were ever a commander who held positional power in contempt and disregard, it was Stilwell.  He had previously refused to serve under any British commander, dangerously dividing the already fragile coalition.  He also expressed a strong and general dislike of the British officer class and of the British goals in the region.  However, upon taking command of the 14th Army, Slim was able to win Stilwell’s admiration and loyalty.  With an impressive combat record of his own, Slim appealed to Stilwell’s warrior ethos and, as a man of very humble origins himself, Slim was able to sympathize with the American’s republican distaste for the aristocratic trappings of many other British commanders.  Slim convinced Stilwell to follow his lead.  In doing so, Slim saved the coalition and brought the American forces back into the fight as part of the 14th Army that ultimately defeated the Japanese in Burma in the spring of 1945.

       Slim shows those qualities of leadership necessary to build a successful coalition from an incredibly diverse and dispirited force.  His wisdom rings true through my and Brady’s experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Combat leadership across a language and cultural barrier requires skillful perception and introspection.  Influencing men who are not formally under your command – or even in your army – don’t speak your language, don’t share your culture or worship your God demands that you explain the justice of your common cause and the importance of beating the enemy and that you keep them always informed and treat them with respect.  They must trust you and you must trust them.

       What analogies can we make to the world of business?  What is the most crucial ingredient to building a shared culture?  How can we achieve alignment of effort across cultural and language barriers?

[1] Field Marshall Sir William Slim Defeat Into Victory.
[2] Defeat Into Victory.
[3] Sir Geoffrey Charles Evans, Slim as Military Commander (London: Batsford, 1969), 215.

 

Operational Design: An Introduction

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How do military commanders and their staffs plan to solve problems which they haven’t yet defined, can’t yet know and have not prepared for?  What implications does this model have for business leaders?

My daughter sings an old English folk song about the “Grand Old Duke of York.”

Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down…”

So, the Grand Old Duke may not have been a military genius.  Unless of course his goal was to improve the physical fitness of his men by forced marches uphill… But I’m sure that wasn’t what he intended to do with his 10,000 men. After all, 10,000-man armies aren’t cheap to just keep hanging around.  So, how do we begin to plan?  How do we create and communicate our intent?  What was the Duke missing?

You must start with vision. The boss is responsible for the vision. He defines the desired end state. This vision may be broad and general. It should leave room for individual initiative of subordinate leaders. The boss’s Operational Art and Design together form an Operational Approach – this is the planning guidance which translates his vision into specific and actionable plans much like an engineer’s blue prints convert a concept sketch into an actual car.  Begin with your end in mind. Here’s how it’s done.

Capital isn’t scarce; vision is.” 

                                                               – Sam Walton

First, we need to address some specific vocabulary: Operational Art is the application of creative imagination, supported by skill, knowledge, and experience to design strategies for solving problems. Operational Design is a framework for understanding an environment and a given problem and developing a vision for desired conditions. Operational Design produces guidance for planning and an Operational Approach to solve a given problem.  The process of Operational Design takes place after a military unit has received a mission, during the larger process called Mission Analysis prior to development, analysis, comparison and approval of courses of action and the production of written orders tasking subordinate units.  We will talk more about Mission Analysis in later posts.  For now, we just need to understand that Operational Design fits into a larger planning methodology.

The Essence of Operational Design is asking Four Questions:

  • What is going on here?
  • What do we want the environment to look like? (What is our desired End State?)
  • Where should we act to achieve our desired end state?
  • How do we get from our current state to our desired end state?

Let’s take each one in turn and dig a bit deeper.

  1. What is going on here? Understanding Your Operational Environment:

To gain understanding of a given problem, it helps to adopt a systems perspective. Operational Design is a way to think about the interactions of systems.  It facilitates an understanding of the constant, evolving and complex interaction of various systems and their implications on a given problem.  Military planners use the model represented by the acronym PMESII-PT (Political, Military, Economic, Social, Information, Infrastructure, Physical Environment and Time Available) to identify and examine the systems interacting in a given area of operations.  Another conceptual model for examining the environment through a systems approach is RAFT (Ask yourself, “What is the Relationship between relevant Actors? What are their Functions and Tensions?). Each of these systems is interrelated and interacts with each of the others in complex and sometimes unexpected ways.  Gaining this perspective is the first step in understanding an environment.

Vision without action is a daydream. Action with without vision is a nightmare.”

                                                         – Japanese Proverb

    2. Define your desired End State: This is the part where Vision comes in… What do you want the environment to look like? How do you accomplish your boss’s intent?

   3.  Determine Where to act: Put simply, what in the current environment is preventing your organization from reaching the desired end state? What is the underlying or “root cause”?  Failure to think clearly at this stage results in a solution that treats symptoms while potentially failing to treat the “disease.”

Ask: What must change?  What doesn’t need to change?  What conditions are required for success?  What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of the various actors?  What opportunities and threats exist for each of the relative actors?

    4.  How do we get to our End State? What are our Objectives? What is our Center of Gravity?: Ask: What broad, general actions will produce those conditions that define our desired end state? How do we move from existing conditions to desired conditions? What tensions naturally exist between the two states? What risks exist?

A little more vocabulary clarification is needed here: 

Objectives are those things which MUST be achieved to reach the end state. These are our goals. Objectives are “the clearly defined, decisive, and attainable goals toward which every military operation should be directed.” Objectives, as defined in Joint Pub. 5-0, pg III-20, must meet the following criteria: 1) Establish a single desired result (goal); 2) Link directly or indirectly to one or more higher-level objectives (or end states); 3)Be prescriptive, specific, and unambiguous; 4)Not infer ways and means for their accomplishment. It is not written as a task.

Effects are behaviors caused by some action. Desired effects are conditions related to achieving our objectives. These must be measured.

Tasks are actions that create effects and may be objectives for subordinates.

Center of Gravity (COG). A CoG is “a source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action or will to act.” – JP 5-0 Clausewitz said it is “the hub of all power and movement on which everything depends.”   Regardless of the definition we use, selection of a correct CoG is crucial as it focuses our thinking and shapes our planning.  Note, there may be more than one CoG and a CoG may change during any given operation. You and your opponent each have a CoG – protect yours and attack the other guy’s!

     It all comes down to Ends, Ways and Means: The “Three Legged Stool of Strategy”

Ends = Ways + Means. Using our vision, we identify our desired End State or “End.” Next we should list the “Ways” that can achieve our desired “End.” Ways are usually (but not always) verbs.   They are the resource or thing that can accomplish, or keep us from accomplishing our End. Ways are methods, tactics, practices, strategies, or procedures. Each of these Ways will have certain requirements or needs without which it cannot function. These are the “Means.” Some examples are, troops, money, time, political capitol, weapons systems, and technology. List these out. Identify a Way that is the primary Way to achieve the End State. We call this a “Critical Capability.” Now, select from your lists of Means that resource or thing that has the inherent Critical Capability to perform the Way. This resource is the CoG. All other Means are called “Critical Requirements.”  We must focus our efforts on a CoG either directly targeting it or targeting something it needs in order to function.  Identifying the CoG allows planners to focus on what they should protect or attack, directly or indirectly, to accomplish their goal and realize their vision.

That’s it for our introduction to Operational Design.  Please, let us know what you think. What did we leave out?  What just didn’t make any sense? What would you like to know more about? In the next post on this topic we will discuss more detailed planning and tracking of results through Lines of Operation, Lines of Effort, Measures of Effectiveness, Measures of Performance, Key Performance Indicators, Branches and Sequels and Decisive Points.