Leading the Charge: Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom

Presented by General Anthony Zinni, USMC (ret.)

The Video of the Week

Video Length = 1:08:57

General Anthony Zinni is a retired four-star Marine Corps General and a former Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and the current chairman of the board of BAE Systems, Inc., a $25 billion-per-year aerospace company.  He graduated from Villanova University with a degree in economics.  He has attended the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Amphibious Warfare School, Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and the National War College. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and two Master of Arts degrees, one in international relations and another in management and supervision.

After his retirement in 2000, General Zinni served his country as the U.S. Peace Envoy in the Middle East and as the Special Envoy to the Henri Dunant Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (Indonesian, Philippines and Sudan peace efforts), and was an instructor in the Department of International Studies at the Virginia Military Institute.  In the Spring of 2008, he joined as an instructor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, where he became the Sanford Distinguished Lecturer in Residence, and currently teaches a course at the Hart Leadership Program.  He is also a public speaker, and an author of two best-selling books on his military career and foreign affairs; Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose and Leading the Charge: Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom, as well as his memoir, Battle Ready, co-authored with Tom Clancy

In today’s video of the week, General Anthony Zinni, USMC (ret.) is speaking at the 2nd Executive Leadership Forum of the George C. Marshall Foundation, on May 4, 2011, at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, Michigan.  If you don’t have the time to view the entire video, I have summarized it below.  But, I encourage you to watch the entire video; maybe watch it in 15 minute sections.

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General Zinni was asked to teach a course for senior undergraduates at The Sanford School of Public Policy (Sanford Leadership Center) at Duke University.  At the same time, a publisher he was working with wanted him to write a book about leadership.  At first, he thought that anything that he could write about leadership had already been written.  He wanted to write about the leadership of today.

When researching to write his book, General Zinni found that there were three kinds of leadership books:

1)      Reflections on leadership by great leaders

2)      “Feel good”  and motivational books

3)      Text Books

In General Zinni’s previous book, “Battle for Peace,” he had written about how the World had changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in the last twenty years.

1)      The rise of globalization

2)      The rise of information technology

3)      Mass migrations

4)      The urbanization of humans around the World

The book discussed how these things were impacting every facet of our lives.  Not just the way we govern, and the politics, but also in business.  Although he saw some traditional strong leadership traits that can be carried over to today, he recognized that the kind of leadership that was needed might be different; this is a different World.  Does it present different challenges and different requirements?  The challenges that leaders face today are much different, much more involved and much more complex than they were 20, 30, 40, or 50 years ago.

What is 21st Century leadership?  How is it different?  Where is it the same?  Who is succeeding and who is failing?  What do people think about leadership?  What do those who we lead think about us?

General Zinni wanted this leadership book to be across every spectrum of society in leadership, not just political leadership, or business leadership, or military leadership.  He researched a variety of surveys conducted by many institutions that studied leadership; surveys that take the pulse of the people about how they feel they are being led.  He approached Harvard, The University of Maryland, and many other institutions to see what people are saying about leadership.

In the 2008 Results of these surveys,  80% of the people said that we had a crisis in leadership in our society.  When looking at the breakdown of the surveys, not one element of leadership in our society  achieved over 50% approval rating; not political leadership, not religious leadership, not business leadership.  He was shocked that this is how they felt about it.  He thought that maybe some of this could be attributed to the economy; some of it to the pessimistic view people have now; things don’t seem to be going that well – maybe politically, maybe our foreign policy, maybe some of the business and economic disasters, or military issues.

This caused General Zinni to ask why?  Why is this happening?  The first thing he wanted to find out was why are leaders failing?  Why is there a sense of broad failure?  Why do leaders fail?

He didn’t want the book to be anecdotal.  He didn’t want it to be a personal opinion.  He wanted to base it on his own research.

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General Zinni found that there is one of three reasons leaders fail –

1)      Lack of confidence

2)      Lack of caring for their people

3)      Lack of the appropriate personal conduct

CONFIDENCE –

Today’s World is much more complex and difficult.  The amount of things people need to know is far greater.  The amount of skills you need to have to be a leader in any field is far greater.  Regardless of what you do for a living, your knowledge base has to be broader.  Successful leaders have to mushroom out, and need to possess skills and knowledge their predecessors never had to have.

General Zinni, when he first left the military and entered the business World, was an executive vice president working for a CEO who was ‘schooling him up’ on the World of business.  This CEO told him, “one thing we don’t like in business is tall, thin people.”  Zinni explained that these are people who have great leadership potential, but grow up in a narrow area.  People who possess a talent or a skill that everybody recognizes, who all of a sudden finds themselves at the top, and they realize that the narrow base that, for decades, they had been successful in isn’t sufficient.

Successful leadership development programs identify leaders early on and expand their base of knowledge early on.  Companies are taking potential leaders of the future and placing them in one department or area of focus, such as finance or accounting.  Then, after about a year, moving them into possibly marketing, or another fundamental discipline of the company; to spread them out and expand their knowledge and broaden their experience.

Being competent is much more difficult because the requirement to be much more knowledgeable, to be technically proficient, to have a broad-based education, and to continue to learn.  Leaders that succeed never stop learning.

CARING AND TAKING CARE OF PEOPLE –

We lead a very different workforce today.  It is most significant in its diversity.  Today’s diversity goes two ways:

1)      Racial, origin/ethnic, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

2)      Generational (silent generation, baby boomers, millennials, generation x, generation y, and the new silent generation)

Their upbringing and their environment have shaped them in a very different way.

In the Marine Corps, they say every Marine is green.  General Zinni insists they’re not all green.  Each of them is different.  Everybody’s (push) buttons are different.  The leaders that are successful can touch those buttons.  It’s been said that every individual is a story.  The great leaders want to know all of those stories.  That’s how you connect to everybody.  Organizations have to shape their leadership to fit that diversity; to fit that individualism.  Leaders have to understand where those differences are, and why they are different.  People respond to different motivations.

The greatest act of respect is listening.  How much time do we spend listening to those that work for us, or those we are responsible for?  That act of listening is the most significant thing.  And, that brings the leader the greatest respect, if you show interest in who they are, what they are, how they think, and how they care.  And, their feedback into what is being done.

The organizations, institutions, and companies that are interested in these things tend to be much better.

PERSONAL CONDUCT –

We live in a World that is under greater scrutiny.  Personal conduct, ethical behavior, and moral behavior have greater focus and greater attention.  Even though that is the case, there are still leaders who still do not get it.  There are still leaders who don’t understand that their personal conduct is under direct scrutiny, and it reflects on the organization.

The organizations that tend to succeed, and the leaders who tend to succeed, are interested in feedback at every level, and interested in developing subordinates.  The demand for counseling, mentorship, and coaching has been the greatest change in organizational and individual development.  Organization programs that focus on young, developing leaders to:

1)      Understand themselves

2)      Have greater self-awareness

3)      Understand who they are

4)      Understand where their leadership levels are

5)      Understand where their skill levels are

6)      Help them identify their limitations

7)      Identify the good things, and capitalize on the good things

Organizations have to work with these young leaders and have to provide the means for them to develop their skills.  These young leaders have to see, interact with and get to know senior leaders that have succeeded that they can relate to.  They need to be paired up with people who have the skill or knowledge that they have limitations in, to help develop it.

Putting young future leaders in a ‘no harm, no foul’ situation; where they were put in a leadership environment and allowed to make mistakes; where you wanted to hear how they felt about themselves; to learn where their limitations might be; to be open and honest with them, but not in a way that it was going to affect their evaluation in any way.  All of this so that you can help them improve.  That takes a lot of trust from both the young leader and the coach/mentor.  Young leaders need to get this feedback, and get that feedback from someone they can trust to help develop them.

Successful leaders today are willing to admit what they need to work on, and they work on those things.  They don’t try to hide them or protect them.  And the organizations they work for help them with that process.

Great leaders today are great communicators.  They can communicate internally and externally; and, very effectively.  They’re the voice.  They give the vision.  The people of the organization can relate to them, and the leader has a personality that comes across.  Leaders don’t fear that communication.  The communication is constant.  Especially in an environment where there might be fear and uncertainty.  Hearing the leader’s voice becomes critically important.

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CRISIS AND CHANGE –

Every organization goes through crisis or change.  Crisis and change both have the same effect on an organization.  Managing your way through crisis and change is the mark of a good leader.  These leaders who guide organizations through crisis or change understand their organization.

The most successful organizations have become flat in their structure, streamlined, and flexible.  They team and restructure themselves as the demand requires; the demand from their customers, demand from their competitors, etc.  They are constantly changing and morphing.

General Zinni told a story about a small software company that he had come across that regularly restructured and reorganized; weekly, sometimes daily.  This restructuring may have been based on the demands of their contracts (what they had to do, and what the tasks were to deliver on the needs of the customer).  This company was unafraid to move around lines of authority, and change teams and restructure.  That is the ultimate in flexibility and adaptability.  This is not easy to do in any size or type of organization.  The old days of having one person in charge, one solid line of accountability and authority no longer exists.

Now, there are webbed or matrix organizational structures, where teams are temporarily built for a particular purpose, and then readjusted.  The military has learned that lesson and operates this way.  The way the military fights and goes into different missions doesn’t reflect their peace-time or structure is.  The old Napoleon staff system (Napoleonic structure staff), which the military had relied on for decades and centuries, is still reflected a lot in the business World or in government; it doesn’t work anymore.

General Zinni commented on when he was commander of U.S. Central Command in Iraq, managing the war in his headquarters in the war zone, his superiors, including the President of the United States, had the ability to see right into the battlefield.  It prevented him the opportunity to give context to what they were seeing on the battlefield.  But, it is the reality of the technology we have today.  Being beamed into the White House Situation Room, and the living rooms of every American, is something that is raw that doesn’t have the opportunity of time and analysis to go through to put it in context.  That is the World we live in.  You can get lost in the shuffle, get behind the power curve, or lost in time if your organization has too many tiers.  Organizations now don’t need it because of the technology out there.

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TECHNOLOGY TODAY –

The leaders today that can master technology, particularly communication and information technology, tend to do best.  Technology is changing so rapidly that systems that might be current and useful to an organization now might become obsolete in a very short period of time.  It gets expensive.  But, technology dominates our World.

There are pros and cons to technology’s advancement and dominance.  The pros are that it flattens the organizations, allows for greater span of control, and it provides you with more information.  The cons are that it requires speed to react to, and it can be overwhelming.  Through this, we’ve lost the ability to think, analyze, and strategize.

Companies are receiving tons of information, and they are responding to it in knee-jerk reactions.  They fall into the trap that faster is always better.  Sometimes it is.  Sometimes 80% solutions given in time are better than 100% solutions now.  But, it becomes a trap, and there is no thinking that goes on.

The new generation (with email, texting, Twitter, Facebook and many other social forums) is receiving literally thousands of pieces of information, and transmitting thousands of pieces of information.  General Zinni is concerned with what goes on between the reception and the transmission; “Are there any brain cells being engaged.”  The ability to process the information is symbolic of our World.

General Zinni, when he was the commander of Central Command, had to conduct video teleconferences with his field commanders around the World.  It might be 3:00 in the morning wherever these participants were during these video teleconferences.  Zinni, looking at all of these different screens, is trying to give them direction and guidance, and he is trying to look into their eyes and see if they got it, if there’s some uncertainty, or lack of understanding.  In his opinion, the certain technology has affected the personal touch necessary in communicating with people.  Some people need (require) that personal touch when communicating with others.

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STRATEGY –

Strategy is a lost art.  We no longer think strategically.

It starts with an organization’s vision statement; what and where does the company want to be five and ten years from now?  CEO’s are too focused on the next fiscal quarter.  Companies operate from quarter to quarter without having a vision for the long-term.

Leaders have to have a long-term vision and strategy; for leaders to know where they are going, and they know how they want to get there.  They know what the goals and objectives are, and the action plans that will accomplish them.  They know how to allocate their resources to make things happen.  Any organization that is operating short-term, while losing site of the long-term, is heading for big trouble.

It is not only important to plan for the long-term, but to communicate it to everyone in the organization; to give them a sense of where they are heading.  It helps build some of the confidence against that apprehension that they have in this kind of environment.

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VALUES –

The leaders today that are successful also have a strong set of values; they have a code.  They have a personal code, and a code on how an organization is going to be run.  The code is more than the standards of conduct posters on the wall.  Some companies are quite proactive to give their employees multiple choice tests online on company ethics, and then show the companies statistics of knowledge on the standards of ethics within the organization.  What these things don’t tell you is if the people are living and breathing that kind of ethical behavior.  Is it really permeating and understood within the organization.  As a leader, you want to know the true behavior of your people.

You can’t run a large organization without problems and issues.  Sometimes people are well-meaning, and might compromise on standards because they think they’re doing something better for the company, or they’re willing to take a short cut to get something done.

How much do the senior leaders demonstrate personally the standards of conduct and values?  It means a lot to the employees, because they have certain expectations and images of them.  If the boss takes shortcuts, or is willing to compromise the values, then there is no ethical system within the organization.

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CRITICAL THINKING –

At the Marine Corps University, they teach course on how to think; critical thinking, systems thinking, creative thinking.  They teach how to do an analytical assessment of the issues and problems you might face.

In many companies, the big boss says, “we have a problem,” and calls all of the middle managers into the conference room.  Everybody gathers into the conference room and the boss says, “We’re going to solve the problem.”  But, nobody stops to define the problem.  Nobody stops to determine what they are exactly trying to get at; what are we facing?

It’s important to stop and define the issue and problem.  Sometimes it is not the problem you thought it was; it could be worse, it could be less.  It could be a different problem altogether.  Sometimes it might not even be a problem.

Actionable Intelligence – You have raw intelligence, but it has to be analyzed and put together in a way that leads you to be able to make the decisions and the actions necessary to resolve the issue. 

Analysis – To tackle the problem, you’ve got to break it down and analyze it.  You have to break it down into its parts.  Then, you synthesize it and put it back together in a way you can use it; a way that is meaningful to the problem solvers.  Synthesis is part of the analytical process.  Then, you have to look at the issue within its context.  The analogy would be that we all live within a system; and we live within a system of systems.  You can’t pull something out and look at it in isolation, because it affects a number of other things.  When you try to deal with a problem in isolation, you don’t know how it will impact the other parts of the system.  You’ve got to analyze what part of the system it is, and how does that system interact with other systems.

Analytical Decision-Maker –When you learned to drive a car, you were an analytical decision-maker.  You have a lot of information and data coming at you from all different directions and you have to make decisions in a reactionary way.  You looked at a situation, analyzed it, and then decided the proper (and safe) course of action.

Recognitional Decision-Maker – You’ve been through so many different situations over and over again over time that you can recognize what is going on, or what is going to happen, and know what you need to do.  These become decisions that at some point you don’t even think about it, you just know what to do.  There are patterns that you see, and you see them accurately.  You can see these patterns, and you understand, from examined experience, where it is taking you.

Intuitive Decision-Maker – These people know, with a quick glance, what course to take.  They understand the intangible parts of a situation.  They have a sense of a situation that comes from extensive experience and knowledge.  They develop their ability to make decisions through an analytical, recognitional to an intuitive process.  You’ve learned lessons from what you’ve gone through and can make intuitive decisions.

To develop leaders to become critical thinkers and good decision-makers, companies should put future leaders into actual experiences and pressure situations, learning lessons from what they’ve been through, to help them build up a bank of capabilities.  General Zinni emphasized this by talking about his experience in Vietnam as a 2nd Lieutenant.  Today, 40 years later, he still looks back on that time and those experiences, and draws lessons from those experiences.  These are lessons he has come to realize over time, and after reflecting on other experiences he’s had throughout his career.  He has had the ability to analyze things in a broader context due to how he developed, matured and was educated.  Now, he can see things, and draw a lesson from them that he might (or could) not have been able to do immediately afterward.

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In the 21st Century, it is a much more complicated, complex World.  When a remote thing happens in the most isolated part of the World, it affects everybody.  Why would we be in a situation where a bunch of rag-tag people living in mountains and hills in Afghanistan cause the World to turn totally around, and affect everything we do?  Ultimately, down to our businesses and to the way our government reacts, our foreign policy, how we’re viewed around the World.  It’s the nature of the World now.  There are no small things that go on in the World.  It’s a much more confused World.  This World has become too complicated.

Education and curiosity – curious leaders try to understand everything.  Leaders have to have a broad base of interests, not just focus on one part.

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At the very end of the video, around the 50thminute, General Zinni conducted a question and answer session with the audience.  For the most part, the questions were primarily focused on World affairs and military actions in Afghanistan.  However, the second question asked (at approx. minute 56:43) led to one of General Zinni’s most poignant, thought-provoking, and on target messages of the entire video (the answer runs through minute 1:01:33).  If you haven’t watched the video, or haven’t gotten that far into the video, I encourage you to look at this specific part of it while you’re reading this post.  His answer was so good, I have decided to discuss this single piece of the lecture in a separate blog post, because the topic deserves its own separate forum.

The question was, “Military teaches that leadership is a two-way street.  However, that thought process seems to be missing in the civilian sector.  Corporate executives are often viewed as first in the chow line.  How can we change this culture?”  Next Week, we will continue with General Zinni’s answer to this question and some further analysis.

Copyright © Dale R. Wilson

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Sources –

“Anthony Zinni”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Zinni – Last modified on 13 January 2012 – Accessed 19 January 2012 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

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5 Responses to “Leading the Charge: Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom”

  1. Excellent post. I love the detail and the easy to understand way this was explained. We don’t have nearly enough people promoting leadership in the nation right now and if we aren’t careful we’ll develop generations of people who haven’t acquired even basic leadership competencies.

    Like

  2. […] Leading the Charge: Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom […]

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  3. […] Leading the Charge: Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom […]

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  4. […] Leading the Charge: Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom (no need to watch the video…I’ve broken it down on the post) […]

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