The military-sphere focuses on leadership and leader development in order to produce effective organizations that are able to accomplish their assigned missions. The leader understands the organization's purpose, gives direction to achieve that purpose, and motivates their people to succeed and push through hardships. This is no less true for businesses. In reality, any group of people that have to work towards a common goal need leadership, to some degree, to unify their efforts. That being said, the problems of leadership are practically universal. Yes, we can frame leadership problems specific to professions or functional areas, however, this is merely an exercise to solve a unique issue or use familiarity to develop a shared understanding.
While the problems faced by a military leader may appear starkly different from the perspective of a business leader, the problems are, as I mentioned, fundamentally the same. This veneer of military ends, ways, and means and the jargon we use for our own sake belie the underlying human aspect. The tools we have in the military; weapon systems, mission command systems, and battle rattle, the tools found in a business; factory equipment, customer relationship management systems, uniforms, and personal protective equipment, are just that; tools, used by humans to shape their environments. The courses of action the military develops to ready their forces and accomplish success in the battle space and the course of action developed by businesses to gain market share and make a profit, are just that; courses of action, developed by humans to accomplish their ends. The warfighters’ drive to assault an objective, sacrifice to protect one another, and endure hardships, and the businesspersons’ drive to satisfy clients and customers, cover down on a colleague’s mistake, and ability to push through to meet quotas or deadlines, is just that, drive, used by humans to push through difficulty and support one another.
The premise is that, regardless of the leadership problems faced in the military or in business, the underlying issue; the common denominator, is that humans are functionally the same. The solutions to the problems of leading Soldiers can provide us with examples of how to lead others in a business setting; once you get past the military veneer to the underlying human element. So to wrap up this chapter on leadership, I will instead look towards the common problems faced by business leaders and discuss how the military would tackle it.
In 2016, authors William Gentry, Regina Eckert, Sarah Stawiski, and Sophia Zhoa wrote a white paper for the Center for Creative Leadership entitled, The Challenges Leaders Face Around the World: More Similar than Different which puts forth six challenges that leaders from various countries face. These business leaders included 793 people holding leadership positions, such as managers and executives, from “China/Hong Kong, Egypt, India, Singapore, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States,” identified a number of issues. In total 34 challenges were presented to their audience, ten were selected as the most critical, and six of that top ten were written about in this white paper.
The white paper itself is pretty barren as far as usable content. The value of the document, however, comes from its ability to bring up the common problems faced by business leaders of different cultures and environmental variables. If we take it at face value, it shows that the issues of leadership are common regardless of where it occurs. The fact that developing one’s subordinates or improving upon the effectiveness of managers is a challenge faced by all - is comforting. Comforting in that the issue is an inherently human issue, and not a unique problem faced by us alone, as we try to improve upon our organizations and achieve our purpose.
Similarly, these challenges are not unique to the private sector. These following six challenges are indeed leadership challenges found within a military organization. I will go over these six challenges, mention the authors suggested methods to overcome them, and then discuss the similarities on how we overcome these same problems on the military-side. If some of the solutions provided by the authors seem similar to what I have already discussed in this chapter then now you may begin to realize, if you hadn’t already, the interconnected nature of human endeavors.
Six Common Challenges across Seven Countries
Looking across the countries, there are six main categories that comprise more than half of all challenges. In addition, these six are ranked among the Top 10 challenges leaders face in each country. In order of frequency, they are:
- Developing Managerial Effectiveness—The challenge of developing the relevant skills—such as time management, prioritization, strategic thinking, decision-making, and getting up to speed with the job—to be more effective at work.
- Inspiring Others—The challenge of inspiring or motivating others to ensure they are satisfied with their jobs; how to motivate a workforce to work smarter.
- Developing Employees—The challenge of developing others, including topics around mentoring and coaching.
- Leading a Team—The challenge of team-building, team development, and team management; how to instill pride in a team or support the team, how to lead a big team, and what to do when taking over a new team.
- Guiding Change—The challenge of managing, mobilizing, understanding, and leading change. How to mitigate change consequences, overcome resistance to change, and deal with employees’ reaction to change.
- Managing Internal Stakeholders and Politics—The challenge of managing relationships, politics, and image. Gaining managerial support and managing up; getting buy-in from other departments, groups, or individuals.
In regards to developing managerial effectiveness, they suggest the leader focus on setting goals, delegating tasks, prioritizing tasks that allow the leader to add value, and having a clear delineation of what is and isn’t in their scope of work, especially in regards to dealing with both superiors and subordinates. Much of what these recommendations tackle is the conflict between two aspects of course of action execution. The first being the quality of the plan or the process being developed in which everyone executes, and second being the time it takes to make and execute the plan or process.
The most frequently mentioned challenge for China, India, and the United States is developing managerial effectiveness. This reflects the challenge of leaders to have a range of very specific kills such as prioritization, time management, and decision-making. Though this sort of skill development has been noted for decades, it still seems to be one that is relevant in today’s world of work.
In our last chapter, “2.2 On Training,” we discussed how the United States Army covers these very issues in relation to training units to become combat ready and sustain that readiness over a period of time. The unit focuses their limited time and resources on becoming trained and proficient so they can accomplish their assigned mission - the purpose of their organization. Focusing on mission-essential tasks (METs), delegating duties to trained and trusted personnel that have a shared understanding of the purpose of the organization, and a structured decision-making process that allows for the development of comprehensive and competent plans.
Concurrent with training and combat operations would be both the military decision making process (MDMP) and mission command that allow members of an organization to execute their mission effectively. The leadership understands the purpose of the organization, has a shared understanding of what is required to achieve that purpose and everyone’s part, and the trust shared between leadership and subordinates so that subordinates have the leeway to adjust their actions to accomplish that purpose even if it must deviate from the plan. This is how the military employs managerial effectiveness within its organizations, and I will discuss the concepts of MDMP and mission command in greater detail in later chapters.
In regards to inspiring others, developing employees, and leading a team, the authors end up wrapping these three into the overarching “relationship-oriented part of leadership.” They suggest making an active effort to mentor, coach, and develop your people, and to promote your people within the organization and improve their competency. To satisfy the psychological and social needs of employees. And to provide purpose, support, and facilitate the sharing of information internal to the team and to external organizations.
From the Army position, these suggestions are correct, though lacking in substance on how to implement them. They imply that the reader knows the difference between coaching and mentoring, and how to develop employees. They imply the leader knows how to assess the needs of their people, and how to guide them to desired ends. Indeed, the white paper is merely a tool to identify the problems and give hints at solutions that require the reader to go and figure it out themselves. Thankfully, dear reader, all of these issues are basically covered in Army’s publications that I relied heavily on in last chapter “2.2 On Training,” and this chapter; which are FM 7-0 Training and ADP 6-22 Army Leadership and the Profession, respectively.
To avoid going over what was already stated previously at length, inspiring others can be found in the purpose, direction, and guidance that leaders give their people, and is discussed greatly earlier in this chapter in the section called “What Leaders Give to Their People.” Developing others is the same teaching, coaching, and mentoring found in the Develops section of the Army Leadership Requirements Model. The methods for leading a team are covered in the previous chapter section called “Principles of Training.” The military is a people organization, and compelling individuals to work for the betterment and effectiveness of the organization, especially at the expense of the individual, is always a challenge. It is an issue for which we have studied and tested in numerous iterations so our publications are valid, at the very least in practice. The environment in which our Soldiers serve our Army and our employees work for our business may be different, however, the principles are universal and the leader must determine the motivations of their people to leverage those desires, to get them inspired, to get them to be more effective, and to get them to work well within a team-based environment.
In regards to guiding change, they understand that change is uncomfortable to most employees. We get used to our systems and processes, and change is not only taxing on the mind but also brings with it many variables which can cause unforeseen outcomes. Even in the face of new threats from competitors, the comfort of the familiar is dangerously enticing. The authors state:
Organizations exist in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). Leaders need to be adept at managing, mobilizing, leading, and dealing with change. Incorporating change management and enhancing resourcefulness should be at the forefront of leadership development initiatives.
The world is indeed dynamic. That requires us to be adaptive to change, and this perspective is very much familiar to me. The term VUCA was a term we used in the military to describe the hybrid and transnational threats in varied environments that complicated our traditional course of action development; making us consider the second and third-order effects of military action and the incorporation of other elements of national power into our planning.
- Noting that the authors cited a source for VUCA, I referenced their endnotes to see who they cited. Much to my pleasant surprise they referenced a publication on modern military matters entitled, The U.S. Army War College: Military Education in a Democracy by Judith Hicks Stiehm. While entering the lexicon in the late 80’s and being popularized in military circles, eventually VUCA found its way into the civilian sector to describe the markets.
The authors aren’t here to discuss what needs to change, only that change is needed and determined to be implemented. The authors focus on how we convince the organization itself to adopt the change, and their suggestions include getting your own buy-in to the change and set the example for others to follow, to understand that people will react differently to the proposed change, that rationality and logic alone may not convince some and to be able to react to the emotions involved, and to be as unambiguous and open during the process as possible so as to ease the burden of uncertainty during the transition.
The Army Leadership Requirements Model and its principles on what makes an effective leader; core attributes and competencies, are what allow the military to most effectively implement change. A large element of commanding effective change deals with empathy, and not necessarily telling people to just do it. Indeed, command authority and compliance can get change started, but it will take compulsion for change to stick and the only way to get people to maintain the change and take it to heart is to understand how they feel about change and make them commit to it.
Within the Character attribute you have selfless service (an Army Value), empathy, discipline, and humility. Selflessness will show your people your actions and directives are for the betterment of the organization, and not personal benefit. Empathy will help you understand the motives of your people and what they need. Discipline makes you capable of maintaining control of yourself and the organization, acting as an anchor during times of change. And humility shows that though you are in charge you acknowledge that you are not all-knowing, and that you will need others' assistance in implementing the change.
Within the Presence attribute you have confidence and resilience. Confidence that you have the ability to successfully change in spite of setback and resistance, and resilience when setbacks do inevitably come up to keep going.
In the Intellect attribute you have mental agility, sound judgment, and interpersonal tact. You need the mental agility to be flexible when the change causes unforeseen effects. You need the sound judgment to make alterations to the plan while still achieving the desired ends. You need interpersonal tact when dealing with others who may be struggling with the change at hand, and how best to support their needs and difficulties - an extension of empathy.
And within the competency of Leads, leading others with the tools of compliance and commitment, the various methods of influence, and providing purpose, direction, and motivation; to which we have spoken about ad nauseam in this chapter are critical to successfully executing the change to a desirable end state.
In regards to managing internal stakeholders and politics, they understand that within a business there are various groups of people with their own motives that shape how the organization may function. That within your business, there may be different groups or collectives all vying for limited resources or favor. Understanding the danger that this situation imposes on leadership is critical to promote cooperation between these potentially competing groups.
They suggest improving your own network of people with whom you have strong connections with and with whom you can leverage for the betterment of the organization. They advise keeping your own superiors well informed about the situation, especially challenges, so that in the process of helping them do their job more effectively by keeping them in the loop they can help you by keeping your group adequately supplied and with additional support if needed. They also advise that you become an effective listener, learning about others issues so that you can become more informed on the goings on, as well as leaving a good impression; things you may need to leverage later for your organization.
Indeed, within the military, though everyone strives for selflessness and thinking only about the benefit of others and the organization, there is still the game of maintaining relationships. Granted, interpersonal relationships are not as critical to getting things done, leaders, subordinates, and peers are able to get a lot more accomplished if there is a sense of comradery and obligation to support one another. Leaders who like their subordinates will be motivated to support them in their plans and back them in tense situations. Subordinates who like their leaders will seek to achieve their leader’s goal with more enthusiasm and persistence beyond simply following orders. And peers will assist and cover down for their colleague should they have issues or need assistance in accomplishing assigned tasks. An organization with a strong hierarchy, but with mutual respect and amiability is an organization that can accomplish difficult missions.