18 October 2008

Military Leadership Principlies for a time of crisis (Part One)

Military Leadership Principlies for a time of crisis (Part One: Introduction, The Chain of Command & Leading Where You're At)

I consider the title of this post to somewhat redundant. After all, the training of military officers in almost exclusively focused on creating leaders, and building the leadership acumen of its men and women precisely for times of crisis. Military training is intense in peace-time, so that its more innate in war-time.

As Brad Feld put it here, "By now you've 3,127 blog posts either talking about the coming current downturn credit crisis recession coming reconfiguration of all things as we've known them." You've most likely also seen the Sequoia Capital Presentation on "what now". There is certainly no lack of opinion and information available right now. Much of it more contemporary and accessible than at any other crisis point in history. Literally, some folks are dusting off their 2001 tech bubble playbooks & recycling them for 2008 use. Many businesses, non-profits and Churches would be well served to read some of the post-mortem reflections from that era. Brad Feld, Fred Wilson, Jason Calacanis, Marc Andreesen and Mark Cuban, come immediately to mind as entrepreneurs and VCs that not only lived through the tech depression of the turn of the century, but have captured a wide, diverse and invaluable collection of lessons, strategies, tactics and reflections of those companies that both succeeded and failed in that time period.

In my opinion, we are not headed for a V-shaped recovery, but a long, protracted global recession, with some of the former emerging markets flirting with depression. The US, Japan and European markets have to a wide extent (finally) unwound, and the liabilities, frozen credit markets and retraction in consumer spending has finally broken the damn in this long-emerging, unsustainable debt-driven, derivative 'growth' of the post-Sep 11th recovery. I feel as more global central banks, currencies and markets continue to unpack their messes, we will be in for a more painful version of the "muddle through economy", as John Mauldin has long said we're in. (Subscribe to John's email newsletter if you want the absolute most timely, useful and powerful macro-poli-economic analysis).

So what does this mean to you as the executive pastor of your Church? What does it mean to you as the first-time or serial entrepreneur? What does it mean to you the development director at a non-profit? When I left the military, I interviewed at Cushmann-Wakefield and KPMG in Chicago, in November of 2004. I asked the Cush-Wake VP frankly, "How do you all get through the winter here?". He just answered bluntly, "we bundle-up, batten-down, keep our heads low, eyes up and work our butts off until it gets warm." Folks, we're in for a long economic winter in the United States and globally, it's time to batten down, keep your head low, eyes up and work your butt off until its warm.

As a decorated Air Force Captain that managed $350M+ in contracts in Iraq, I want to look at this economic time and make a plea for leadership to be the central driving force behind what I see as an unprecedented opportunity. That's right; opportunity. Now is a tremendous time to build value in your company or organization, focus on your people, mission and strategy. Hone your execution, focus all hearts and minds on mission and instill the vision and framework for game-changing execution. Over this series of blogs, I want to look at the military leadership or strategic principles that are essential for you to adopt in these crazy times. Through each of these posts, we'll explore the framework or principle, then look at the practical leadership essence required.

First, there must be a crystal-clear chain-of-command. To me, this is the most critical framework in the organization. Whether a partnership LLC, a Church staff, or a 5 man start-up company, every employee must know exactly how the chain of command is laid out, and exactly who is accountable for what, at every level in the organization. As an aside, if velocity and funding led you to grow too fast, or get too big, your org chart (chain of command) will make this crystal clear. Have dotted-line assignments to multiple reports, for special project guy? Have directors with no direct reports, or too many? Do you have over-lapping functional teams with blurred lines of responsibility? Now is the time you must fix this. Your execution of company mission, to say nothing of your capital and burn-rates can't afford not to get this right. Every employee must know who ultimately makes the tough call. They must know who sets the vision and empowers their respective functional leaders. Here is a look at how a typical ROTC unit chain of command would look. Don't allow a vacuum of leadership create an impression that your team is going into 'dog eat dog mode'.

In the military, you will have your operations, support, logistics and medical groups. It's crystalline. There are no blurred lines and responsibilities. And ideally, every tactical manual, role and responsibility and even the acquisition direction flows down from strategic DoD planning, and rolls-up from tactical "on the ground" AAR's (after action reports). The crystal-clear chain of command facilitates and enables this strategic flow-down and tactical flow-up. As a leader at any level in the organization* (will follow-up in next paragraph), you must work to vertically and horizontally align your people to best execute the mission of the organization. In times of crisis, leadership can be de-centralized, but must be crystallized. This sets everybody up for success, and with the associated alignment of your talent, it clearly places performance and execution responsibilities on your best people, products and teams.

Secondly, you must lead from where you're at! This has been the most resonent phrase to me from the moment I was commissioned into the Air Force. "Lead from where you're at" Col Zamzow (now Major General Zamzow) said to a group of us 'snot-nosed 2nd Lietenuants'. As a 2nd Lieteunant, there is very little that you're comfortable with, and even less that you know. The military has just made you in rank, senior to 85% of the force (all officers outrank all enlisted members), yet, you know next to nothing about the profession, or craft above what you've been taught academically, or learnded in your basic courses. Perhaps many of you find yourselves there right now. Perhaps you're a seasoned professional, but are now in a leadership role for the first time. The idea that we could lead then & now, as 2nd Lieteuants, while we were mostly just trying to stay low and out of site...was completely foreign to me. All of you can right now too. It really resonated with me when Col Zamzow said it. I mean, I came into the Air Force as an Officer to lead, right? But I thought only the Company Commanders, Squadron Commanders, Platoon Commanders were actual leaders? Nope. We all have the obligation and duty to lead from where we are!

When you frame your profession and professional development around the question "how can I lead from where I'm at?", your team, your ministry, your company will be revolutionized in productivity and effectiveness. Truly. Revolutionized. What if every developer on your team not just saught to execute technically, but served their directors with humility, worked to eliminate anything that didn't align with strategic vision...while mentoring a junior employee? What if the children's ministry volunteer lived & taught the church's core values and mission, while humbly serving the senior pastor, and offered his or her occupational gifts in accounting, to help a non-profit balance their books? What if you, in your analyst role, served your director by offering to take notes at his staff meetings, or the senior leadership team meetings? The model is servant leadership. Each one of us can lead "where we're at". It works likes this; once you've shed your old inward-looking self, and made the commitment to lead, exactly where you are right now, you will ask your old self, "what was I always bitching about? What were the organizational short-comings or problems that I felt hindered me or our team?" Then, in the model of servant leadership, you will look to solve those problems. How can I change the procurement process? How can we field engineering changing in a more spiral acquisition model? How can we stream-line our customer service experience? What would have to happen for our R&D team to be more free? All of us can ask these questions, and undertake solving them, no matter where we're at. If you find yourself ever trying to define your responsibility more narrowly, you're not leading from where you're at. Instead, retrain yourself to tackle the more intimidating undertakings. Negotiate with the customer that your boss avoids, attend the meeting or conf. call your boss can't make. Serve that person. Whether you have two direct reports, or you're the CEO reporting to the Board and the shareholders, we all have someone we can serve up and down the chain of command. This characteristic will do nothing short of completely set the model for your peers and make a dramatic impact on your team. The willingness to acknowledge and undertake the challenges of your team, with an indifference to receiving the credit for the task, will deeply align your own personal achievement with that of the team. To truly revolutionize your career and exponentially grow the impact that you, your team, your division, your social service, your ministry can have at these, or any times, start to lead from where you're at!