Archive for strategic leadership

Plan For Failure

Posted in Leadership with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2015 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance

“I don’t lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word.”

General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis

We all strive for victory.  Each one of us hates to lose.  After all, it is essential for us to succeed in our daily lives.  We are obviously not living life to fail.  But, fail we will.

As important as it is to plan for victory, it is just as important to plan for failure.  Every ‘battle plan’ should consider all contingencies.  But, victory, of course, hangs on the details, and behind those details are hidden the pitfalls that can spell disaster and defeat.  We often take our eye off the potential negatives and ultimately find ourselves facing the unexpected.  This can easily be avoided.

Last week, we again saw another data breach hitting Anthem Blue Cross.  And, again, many experts are saying that this ‘disastrous’ data breach was avoidable.  When I first heard about it, my first thought was how something like this could happen again.  Haven’t these major organizations learned from other data breaches, such as to Michaels Stores, Home Depot, Kmart and ebay?  Aren’t major corporations taking steps to prevent these kinds of disasters from happening to them?  I can understand maybe not recognizing the unknown, but I cannot accept these companies blatantly ignoring what is going on around them, and to their peers in various corporate circles.  Again, planning for failure is just as important as planning for success.

In a recent blog post on The Military Leader, entitled 5 Questions That Can Save You From Disaster, author Drew Steadman discusses how failure can be avoided by not getting caught off guard by things that could have been anticipated.  As he states in his article, “A few moments of reflection can cue you in to the key indicators. And asking hard questions will force you and your team to acknowledge the situation you face.”  But, what I take away from Drew’s article is that you cannot wait for things to happen, or circumstances to change, before putting into place a plan that could work to avoid failure.  It is important to be quite aware of the peripheral things, because failure or victory are contingent on how (or if) you recognize and react to them.

One thing that I am certain of is that there will be a lot of uncertainty when planning for any outcome.  In essence, failures and miscues can be avoided by taking action based on our anticipation of the known’s and the unknowns.  And, doesn’t that sound familiar:

Recommended Reading: “The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld

Part 1: Three Reporters

Part 2: The Known and the Unknown

Part 3: A Failure of Imagination

Part 4: Absence of Evidence Isn’t Evidence of Absence

As my youngest daughter, Kassandra, when she hears something so profound, says, “what does that even mean?”  When Donald Rumsfeld first uttered this statement during a press breifing in February 2002 about the lack of evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups, he was making a point that there are various levels of certainty and uncertainty based on our knowledge of the facts as we know them, and the facts that aren’t yet clear. [View video of Donald Rumsfeld’s comments HERE]

To better define this, I found an article on SmartOrg by Don Creswell that defined the 3 Basic Sources of Risk and Uncertainty, which came out of a presentation by Kelvin Stott.

My take:

  • We must remain cognizant of those things that we know, while not discounting the possibilities that we think aren’t likely to happen.
  • We need to open more widely the avenues of communication, encouraging everyone to say something if they know something; share knowledge.  Nobody can assume the other knows what they know, nor can they think the information isn’t important.
  • Be Inquisitive and curious.  Ask questions and challenge the status quo.
  • We need to use our imagination, as well as look at the intelligence that is available, to make the best decision possible at the time.

Bottom line: Think outside the box, and don’t ignore the obvious.

“Failure is in a sense the highway to success, as each discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true.”

John Keats (1795-1821) British Poet

In the military, disasters could be due to bad planning, bad execution, bad weather, general lack of skill or ability, the failure of a new piece of military technology, a major blunder, a brilliant move on the part of the enemy, or simply the unexpected presence of an overwhelming enemy force.  But, what bothers me is when defeat and failure occur as a result of a known and preventable cause.  There are many military disasters throughout history that you can spend hours researching and realizing that they could have been avoided.

Recommended Reading: The Five Biggest Disasters in American Military History

I’m not suggesting that we are always going to be perfect.  What I am saying is that paying attention to certain details can make the difference between success and failure.  Being aware and prepared, innovative and imaginative, proactive and intuitive, can all make a big difference.

“When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and set sail once more toward your coveted goal.”

Napoleon Hill (1883-1970) American speaker and motivational writer

As you look around at the people and organizations who are facing critical issues, problems, and crisis,[i] you should view those situations as instructive and constructive. They should, for you, act as lessons learned.[ii]  We can learn as much from other people’s failures, as we can from our own.  Try to recognize what took that person or organization into the direction of failure, and plan to do the things necessary to avoid them happening to you or your organization.

Don’t be smug thinking that these things cannot happen to you, or that they are rare or isolated incidents.[iii]  And, don’t be arrogant in the thought that these things can’t happen to you … Or, that ‘things just happen.’[iv]  Don’t let things happen because you failed to prepare, or you grew over-confident with success. Plan for failure.[v]  Don’t fall to complacency or laziness.

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Inspired by five consecutive Tweets (#5Star #5Tweet) I posted on Friday, February 13, 2015:
[i]     Tweet 1 of 5
[ii]    Tweet 2 of 5
[iii]   Tweet 3 of 5
[iv]   Tweet 4 of 5
[v]    Tweet 5 of 5
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Sources:

Improvise, Adapt and Overcome ~ Changing Plans, But Not Changing Vision

Posted in Leadership with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2012 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance

*The following was inspired by a post on Timothy F. Bednarz‘s blog, Leaders to Leader, entitled, “Plans Must Be Rooted in Past Performance.”

Footnote (in advance of reading this post):  In the context of this article, when I speak of a ‘leader,’ I am referring to a leader at all levels; not necessarily the commander, CEO or department head.  Empowered followers are the key to implementing and accomplishing plans at all levels of the organization.

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Plan for Victory ~ Expect to Win

A vision or goal (short-term / long-term) is where the organization sees itself in the future.  It is a desired result that an organization plans and commits to achieve.  To move towards these results requires planning and goal-setting.  These time-targeted plans should be specific, measurable, realistic and attainable to achieve each objective along the path towards the vision.  The anticipated results guide reactions, according to various successes and failures, as the organization maneuvers towards the objective (vision).  From these plans, a leader must ensure that participants have a clear awareness of what they must do to achieve an objective.

In the military, they call this the Commander’s Intent; the stated description of the end-state as it relates to forces (entities, people), the purpose of the operation, and key tasks to accomplish the mission.  This blog will discuss, more specifically, Commander’s Intent, and mission planning & accomplishment, After Action Reviews (AAR’s), etc., another time.  But, the blog, PurpelINK, defines and discusses Commander’s Intent very well:

A soldier’s every move is predicated upon hours of forethought and planning. After the commander-in-chief approves the order of battle, a soldier will find his personal orders specifying the scheme of maneuver and field of fire. Each battalion is told what to do, what materiel to use, and how to set up supply lines to replace its munitions.

There’s only one problem: no plan survives contact with the enemy because the enemy always gets a vote. Consider the variables; [a weather change], a key military asset is destroyed after it is deployed [etc]. In short, the enemy is unpredictable.

The beautiful thing about knowing the [Commander’s Intent] is that it means your plans are never rendered obsolete by the unpredictable. You may lose the ability to execute the plan (involving the timing of men and materiel), but you never lose the responsibility of executing the Commander’s Intent.

[Commander’s Intent] manages to align the behavior of soldiers at all levels of the army without requiring detailed instructions from the High Command. If you know the intention of the order, you are free to improvise to arrive at its fulfillment. If people know the intent, they can engineer their own solutions to accomplishing the task.

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Planning GoalsAn organization’s history of past accomplishments (or failures), and the acquisition of desired (or poor) results, obviously influences the plans and strategies of the future.  When we are successful, we build on the plans that made us successful in the achievement of certain goals and objectives.  But when we fail, we tend to throw away those plans, and sometimes we adjust, or dramatically change, our vision.  This is the wrong thing to do if you intend to grow, improve and become successful and victorious.

For example, an Army might put their efforts into creating plans that become useless once the enemy is engaged.  Companies do the same thing when they implement initiatives and strategies that are poorly planned out or executed.  But, one should be reluctant to throw aside entire plans because of those failures, or by falling short of mission.  On the contrary, using lessons learned, one should assess the capabilities of their resources (people, material, finances, etc.) that contributed to those results, correct the weaknesses and gaps in performance, and then adjust the plan, re-allocating and reassigning resources to be better utilized for future actions and plans.  Maybe the people, or the team, responsible for certain results were not afforded all of the tools necessary to succeed.  Or, the people were not properly appointed the right tasks to drive towards the desired results; individuals weren’t assigned tasks according to their talents.

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Improvise, Adapt and Overcome

The United States Marine Corps calls it, “Improvise, Adapt and Overcome.”  The Marine Corps has been successful employing this concept mostly because of the creativity of its people and their success-based attitude.  During the chaos of battle and the implementation of plans according to the Commander’s Intent, they must find what works, or people die, equipment is lost, and the battle is lost.  For the Marine Corps, the whole notion of improvise, adapt and overcome becomes second nature.  For companies and organizations, what worked last year does not work this year, and what works now is a radical departure from what worked last year.  They must improvise, adapt and overcome.

My point is that past results should never change your vision.  Yes, you should plan according to past lessons learned.  But, a good leader will never hesitate as a result of, or be intimidated by, past failure.  And, a good leader will never change their vision for the future as a result of those failures.  The future vision or goal must remain the same, never changing because of the past.  One must have the courage to change according to those failures, yet not change their mindset because of those failures. The past can tell you a lot.  But don’t let it tell you to reverse course.

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A good leader will:

  • Align the capabilities of people and resources based on the past, not in spite of it.  They will match the people to the tasks according to skill level and proficiency
  • Manage and monitor time to efficiently and effectively achieve the planned mission
  • Adjust milestones & short-term goal targets, and determine the feasibility of certain objectives
  • Frequently assess, reconsider and change according to the circumstances they are facing
  • Improvise according to the availability and reliability material (supplies, equipment, etc.)
  • Acquire and/or properly allocate the tools needed to achieve short and long-term results
  • Teach, and at the same time learn, the knowledge necessary to improve and succeed, sometimes based on the conditions at the time; gaining feedback, recommendations and reviewing solutions, etc.
  • Implement the plan by breaking it down from a big job into little jobs, and delegate those jobs accordingly

Finally, throughout any situation that requires action and/or change, it is important for any leader to remain optimistic, to be proactive and to cultivate passion.

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Here are my recommendations for making plans based on past performance:

1) Set tasking according to capabilities

2) Your vision (Commander’s Intent) should never change, but your plans must

3) Don’t let short-term setbacks blur your long-term vision

4) ‘Change’ is the only thing that remains the same throughout an organization

5) You might miss your target, but as long as you’ve adjusted and improved your tactics (based on Improvise, Adapt and Overcome), you’re making progress.

6) Remain motivated.  Failure is a hard thing to deal with, but the taste of success (victory) is sweet.

7) Never give up.  You may have failed to reach your target, but as long as you have learned from your mistakes and have acknowledged the lessons learned, you’re making progress and one step closer to victory!

*Inspired by a post on Timothy F. Bednarz‘s blog, Leaders to Leader, entitled, “Plans Must Be Rooted in Past Performance.”

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Sources –

“Problem Solving: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” – Posted Tuesday, February 1, 2011 – http://www.peakprosperity.com/blog/improvise-adapt-overcome/52001 – Accessed 23 July 2012 – Chris Martenson’s Peak Prosperity – http://peakprosperity.com/

“Commander’s Intent” – Posted Friday, August 1, 2008 – http://washelby.blogspot.com/2008/08/commanders-intent.html – Accessed 23 July 2012 – PurpelINK – http://washelby.blogspot.com/

“Goal” – Wikipedia (The Free Encyclopedia) – Last Modified on 21 July 2012 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goal – Accessed 23 July 2012 – Wikipedia (The Free Encyclopedia) – http://en.wikipedia.org/

“Commander’s Intent” – Wikipedia (The Free Encyclopedia) – Last Modified on 24 March 2012 – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intent_(military)#Commander.E2.80.99s_Intent – via “Intent (Military)”  at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intent_(military) – Accessed 23 July 2012 – WikiPedia (The Free Encyclopedia) – http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Related Articles –

BookLink: Army Leadership (Organization and Strategic Leadership) {Book 1, Wk. 3}

Posted in Army Leadership, BookLink with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2012 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance

Last week, I took a brief departure from BookLink and our weekly review of The U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual.  Instead, I posted Leadership Effects (A Guest Blog Post from the Front Lines), which originated from a comment to this series about the Army’s leadership field manual.  From a weekly reader’s standpoint, it amounted to a virtual field trip to the front lines of military leadership.  If you haven’t taken the time to read that post, please set aside some time to do so.

Our previous assignment had been to read Chapter 10 thru Appendix A (pages 107 thru 155).  But, we are only going to summarize Chapters 10 thru 12, leaving Appendix A (pages 145 thru 155) for next week.  If you are new to the BookLink series, and you want to catch up on our reading of The U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual, you can find links to the recent posts below.  Also, below, I have included links to the field manual found elsewhere on the internet for you to view and download.

BookLink ~ The U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual – Posted 01/23/2012

BookLink: Army Leadership (BE ~ KNOW ~ DO) {Book 1, Wk. 1} – Posted 01/30/2012

BookLink: Army Leadership (Lead ~ Develop ~ Achieve) {Book 1, Wk. 2} – Posted 02/06/2012

http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/repository/materials/FM6_22.pdf

http://www.scribd.com/doc/6255277/FM-622-Leadership-US-Army

This coming week, our assignment is to finish reading the field manual; Appendix A thru the end of the book (pages 145 thru 216).  Then, on February 27, I will have a post for discussion on what we have read.

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Army Leadership FM 6-22 (FM 22-100) (Paperback) ~ US Army Cover Art

There are many influences and challenges that affect leadership.  Some of these are predictable, based on experiences.  Some are unpredictable, surfacing because of the situation.  As General Dennis J. Reimer, Chief of Staff of the Army (1995-1999) once said, “The role of leadership is to turn challenges into opportunities.”  Obviously, many of the challenges a soldier in the Army may face are a result of evolving threats, and their ability to adapt to those ever-changing challenges.

Stress –

In all walks of life, both military and civilian, stress is a human dimension we all have to deal with.  Leaders play a significant role in managing the stress levels of their subordinates.  The mental discipline and resilience to overcome the contributing factors of stress, and implementing countermeasures to confront it, becomes the responsibility of both the leader and follower.  Here are just a few of the ways to handle stress, as discussed in FM 6-22:

–          Admit that fear exists

–          Ensure communication lines are open between leaders and subordinates

–          Do not assume unnecessary risks

–          Provide good, caring leadership

–          Recognize the limits of a soldier’s endurance

Although the emphasis of FM 6-22 is on Army leadership, and applies to soldiers, there are obvious parallels to managing stress among people in the civilian community.  Stress is a result of varying levels of fear.  Dealing with fear and anxiety is vital to remaining focused and strong; easier said than done, I know.  But, good leadership will recognize the signs of stress among their people and teams, and will employ the necessary measures to manage those stress levels.  As General George S. Patton, Jr. said, “All men are frightened.  The more intelligent they are, the more they are frightened.  The courageous man is the man who forces himself, in spite of his fear, to carry on.”  (War As I Knew It, 1947).

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As a leader grows in knowledge and experience, they are preparing themselves for greater responsibilities, and will become organizational and strategic leaders.  These leaders lead by example, have a wide range of knowledge, and apply their competencies to build teams of teams with discipline, cohesion, trust and proficiency.  They focus their organizations down to the lowest level on the mission ahead by disseminating a clear intent, sound operational concepts, and a systematic approach to execution.  In some cases, these leaders may lead complex organizations, where they would have to apply elements of direct, organizational, and strategic leadership at the same time.  These leaders must be agile.

Now that they’re in charge of a larger organization, these leaders’ influences are more often indirect than direct down the chain of command.  They rely more heavily on developing subordinates and empowering them to execute their assigned responsibilities and missions.  They visualize the larger impact on the organization and mission when making decisions; they look at the big picture.  Lower level personnel and leaders look to their organizational leaders to set achievable standards, to provide clear intent, and to provide necessary resources.

A fitting quote to encompass the leader’s ability to drive the organization and lead by example is a quote by General Gordon R. Sullivan, author of Hope is Not a Method:

“If you are the leader, your people expect you to create their future.  They look into your eyes, and they expect to see strength and vision.  To be successful, you must inspire and motivate those who are following you.  When they look into your eyes, they must see that you are with them.”

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Organizational leaders play a critical part when it comes to maintaining focus.  They are at the forefront of adapting to changes and exploiting emerging opportunities by applying a combination of intuition, analytical problem solving, systems integration, and leadership by example.

Organizational leaders ensure clear and understandable communication.  They share as much information as possible with their subordinates, and allow for a two-way exchange of information to ensure a clear understanding of intent, priorities, and thought processes.  Within the organization, there should be a coordination of communication through multiple channels, creating a more complete picture.  With reliable information, staffs at different levels can productively assist in turning policies, concepts, plans, and programs into achievable results.

Middle level organizational levels also interact with the next-higher staff to gain a better understanding of the superior’s priorities and impending shifts.  This helps set the conditions for their own requirements and changes.  Constantly sensing, observing, talking, questioning, and actively listening helps to better identify and solve potential problems, or to avoid them.

Organizational leaders take a long-term approach to developing the entire organization.  They create a positive environment, they prepare themselves for the future, they develop others by building team skills and processes, they encourage initiative and acceptance of responsibility, and they choose talented staff leaders (middle managers).  Ultimately, they empower their organization to be prepared to take initiative and to make decisions, while holding them accountable for their actions.  They tell their people what needs to be accomplished and why, and leave the details to them.  Known as Pushing Smarts Down, soldiers today have better intellect and education and don’t need to be told how to do certain tasks, or be guided by step-by-step processes.  It is truly the elimination of micromanagement and the establishment of empowerment.

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Strategic leaders are high-level thinkers who sustain an organization’s culture and envision the future of the organization, and then convey that vision to the entire organization.  Strategic leaders apply knowledge, experience, techniques, and skills beyond those required by direct or organizational leaders.  They must think in multiple time periods and apply more adaptability and agility to managing change.  They operate in intricate networks of overlapping and sometimes competing constituencies.  They participate in and shape endeavors extending beyond their span of responsibility.  Strategic leaders must concentrate on the future.  They spend much of their time looking toward long-term goals and positioning for long-term success even as they often contend with mid-term and immediate issues and crises.

The constantly changing World challenges strategic leaders’ decision-making abilities.  Despite the challenges, strategic leaders personally tell the organization’s story, make long-range decisions, and shape the organization’s culture.  Like direct and organizational leaders, strategic leaders lead by example and exert indirect leadership by communicating, inspiring, and motivating.  Providing a clear vision is vital to the strategic leader, and they share this vision with a broad audience, gaining widespread support, and use it as a compass to guide the organization.  Strategic leaders identify trends and opportunities, and threats that could affect the organization’s future and move vigorously to mobilize the talent that will help create strategic vision.

Strategic leaders are skilled at reaching consensus and building coalitions.  They apply these skills to tasks, and routinely bring designated people together for missions.  Using peer leadership rather than strict positional authority, strategic leaders carefully monitor progress toward a visualized end state.  They focus on the health of the relationships necessary to achieve it.  Interpersonal contact sets the tone for professional relations: strategic leaders must be tactful.

And, strategic leaders lead and inspire institutional change.  They accept change in proactive, not in reactive fashion.  They anticipate change even as they shield their organizations from unimportant and bothersome influences.  Ultimately, good strategic leaders can effectively shape change to improve the institution while continuing to deal with routine operations and requirements.  They know that institutional change requires influence grounded in commitment rather than forced compliance.  Commitment must be reinforced consistently throughout the multiple levels of the organization.  While all levels of leaders lead change, strategic level leaders make the most-sweeping changes and ones that focus on the most distant horizon.  Strategic leaders guide their organizations through eight distinct steps if their initiatives for change are to make lasting progress.  The critical steps of the leading change process are:

  • Demonstrate a sense of urgency by showing both the benefits and necessity for change.
  • Form guiding coalitions to work the process of change from concept through implementation.
  • With the guiding coalitions and groups, develop a vision of the future and strategy for making it a reality.
  • Clearly communicate the future vision throughout the institution or organization; change is most effective when all members embrace it.
  • Empower subordinates at all levels to pursue widespread, parallel efforts.
  • Plan for short-term successes to validate key programs and keep the vision credible.
  • Consolidate the successful programs to produce further change.
  • Ensure that the change is culturally preserved.

The result is an institution that constantly prepares for and shapes the future environment.  The strategic leaders’ fundamental goal is to leave the organization better than they found it.  They create a positive environment to position the institution for the future.

When providing direction, giving guidance, and setting priorities, strategic leaders must judge realistically what the future may hold.  They incorporate new ideas, new technologies, and new capabilities.  From a mixture of ideas, facts, conjecture, and personal experience, they create an image of what their organizations need to be and where it must go to get desired results.

The strategic leader’s vision provides the ultimate sense of purpose, direction, and motivation for everyone in the organization.  It is the starting point for developing specific goals and plans, a yardstick for measuring organizational accomplishment, and a check on organizational values.  A shared vision throughout the organization is important for attaining commitment to change.  A strategic leader’s vision for the organization may have a time horizon of years, or even decades.

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