Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Harvard Business Review Explores Adaptive Leadership as Found in the Military

In their November 2010 issue, Harvard Business Review ran a series of four articles on “Leadership Lessons from the Military.” Recently, we summarized “Which of These People is Your Future CEO”, which examined how branch of service affects leadership style. This week, Hire a Hero will focus on “Four Lessons in Adaptive Leadership” by Michael Useem.

In this article, Useem, a Professor of Management and the Director of the Center for Leadership and Change Manager at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia, explains why and how he incorporated four military leadership precepts into Wharton’s MBA and executive MBA programs. Useem points out that the military has been developing leaders much longer than the corporate world and that civilian leadership could take a page from the military’s playbook. The four precepts he discusses are ‘Meet the Troops’, ‘Make Decisions’, ‘Focus on Mission’, and ‘Convey Strategic Intent.’

Meet the Troops: In challenging times, it is important to create a personal connection with the people that will be carrying out your intent. To illustrate this point, Useem recalls when the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff visited Wharton’s MBA classrooms. Immediately upon entering, the four-star General walked up to the first row of students and began shaking hands and introducing himself. This same General adopted a policy of personal interaction earlier in his career when he was responsible for 92,000 troops. He found that a handshake or look in the eyes made an impression on his men and women that ensured retention of the mission with which he was charging them.

Make Decisions: Good decisions must be made in timely manner. To convey this point to his class, Useem took his MBA students to the U.S. Marine Corps’s Officer Candidate School in Quantico, VA., where they participated in Leadership Reaction and Combat courses. In one exercise, the students were instructed to perform a seemingly impossible feat in ten minutes. And while one team accomplished the task, they quickly learned that in that time it took them to decide how to accomplish the task, the enemy would most likely have taken up the position they were trying to occupy. The lesson was that decisions must be made fast and effectively. A Marine dictum further explains the need for effective decision-making: “When you’re 70% ready and have 70% consensus, act.” Ultimately, deliberation should be balanced with action.

Focus on Mission: It is important to establish a mission while eschewing personal gain. When several members of an executive team from a large financial firm participated in a Leadership Reaction course, similar to the one at Quantico, they were given physical trials with little guidance. During these trials, happening upon a splotch of red paint signified an explosive device. After watching their ranks dwindle, an after-action review revealed how this lesson applied to the financial world. A senior manager explained that often managers are not concerned when they see a colleague commit a career mistake (not unlike stepping on a red splotch of paint). Sometimes, a colleague’s mistake could mean a career boon for someone else. Ultimately, though, what is good for the individual is not always good for the company, just like in the military.

Convey Strategic Intent: It is important to define a clear objective while empowering subordinates to achieve it. For this lesson, Useem took his class to the Gettysburg battlefield. Here, at the end point of the Union line, his class learned how Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was instructed by a Union commander to hold the line or else they would be overrun. He was not told how to do so, only that he must accomplish this task. As the battle raged on and ammunition ran low, Chamberlain made the inventive decision to attach bayonets to their rifles and charge the Confederates, which drove them off. Had Chamberlain been micromanaged and told exactly what to do, he may have never turned to this little used tactic and the outcome of Gettysburg may have been much different. Useem points out that while a common goal should be established, good leaders rely on their subordinates’ ingenuity to achieve the goal.

While the military and corporate America have very different challenges and goals, Useem’s article illustrates just how important leadership lessons as taught by the military can be for civilian leaders. These four leadership principals in particular, taught in an innovative way to MBA candidates at Wharton, are invaluable in shaping corporate America’s future leaders. Click here to read the article.

1 comment:

  1. I had never thought about how the leadership styles of the military can be so well applied to leadership positions in the business world. I think it would be a great idea for men and women who have strong leadership skills from the military to get into the competitive business world, and a degree in International business would be a great asset because many have already traveled the world, so why not keep at it. Also earning an MBA could also be very beneficial and there are so many schools out there that have great programs, like Thunderbird which is based in Arizona, but has many other options for earning a degree there.

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