Harvard Business Review features this title as it cover story for the November 2010 issue. A sad indictment that it has taken me 12 months to get around to writing about it – but better late than never.
There are three articles from this issue that I wanted to draw your attention to – each of them offers different insights into what we can learn for our corporate lives from the teaching and approaches of the military.
The first learning comes from the article “Which of these people is your new CEO?” [p80]. The article makes the point that the military is not homogeneous, just like our corporate worlds. People from different services will exhibits different world views, in some ways similar to the differences between Sales and Accounting!
“Each branch of the armed services makes a trade-off between process and flexibility” [p82]
If you are seeking a truely adaptive leader you need to look at the US Army or Marine Corp – but avoid the Navy and Air Force. The later two branches are considered to adopt a more process-driven approach to management, with little scope for deviation. They do this as a means to effectively manage their technically complicated and interdependant environments – and to limit the complexity that flows from adding human interactions to the already complicated.
From USMC leadership manual
“[Adaptability] means willingness to deviate from normal, accepted practices – even from doctrine – if that is what it takes.”
The second article, entitled “You have to lead from everywhere“[p76], is a profile of Admiral Thad Allen USCG(Ret), who was the national incident commander for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Somewhat ironic choice given the previous article about Navy management style – or perhaps the Coast Guard is not really influenced by the Navy.
When he says lead “from everywhere” he means you need to be at visible in a number of places, a good message for a Corporate Crisis Leader also;
- the front line to establish credibility with the troops/staff
- in the central command post to track and co-ordinate action
- briefing the media and,
- liaising with major stakeholders such as Government or major Shareholders.
Allen admits being a fan of Peter Senge (among others) – the comment in the quote below about mental models is a bit of a giveaway. A lot of Corporate leaders could also benefit from reading a range of management theory and thinking about to apply those principles.
“When faced with a complex, fast-moving crisis, leaders must constantly adapt their mental models and create a ‘unity of effort’.”
This is an interesting point he makes about “Unity of effort” – the normal approach, which you also see in ICS/NIMS is for unity of command. Allen defines his unity as aggregating everybody’s capabilities to achieve a single purpose. Certainly a more noble ideal, and more likely to achieve outcomes, than just having integrated Command and Control models.
Good leadership, Allen asserts “requires flexibility, agility and curiosity.” He argues that the narrow perspectives we find in a lot of Corporate and Military folks will not meet the needs of modern crisis or combat leadership. The military model with rigid adherence to doctrine is too inflexible. Likewise the ideology of “Balance Sheet” and “Market Analysts” you encounter in much of the corporate world is equally inflexible and constraining.
You need to gather information, develop situational awareness and decide/act appropriately – not in the way that somebody documented in a plan, procedure or doctrine. They may not have had all the facts or the same situation you face. Allen provides a perfect example from his experience in command at New Orleans (Post-Katrina and Post-Brown)
“there were socioeconomic issues in play that were never anticipated by the response doctinre.”
I will leave the third article until tomorrow.
Is it easier to be adaptive when you know your people are well trained and drilled?
Rarely is this case in Corporate Crisis Management.
How do you test your Crisis Leadership’s ability to deviate from the doctrine of the MBA School?