Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Military strategies and leadership styles

Another read a few months back was Blue Ocean Strategy, by Kim and Mauborgne, which I enjoyed as I was brushing off some dust on my strategy-type training from back in my MBA days.

As I read it though, I made a note to myself- I need to comment on folks' misperceptions about military strategy, and then while I'm at it, throw in some bonus comments about people's misperceptions about military leadership styles.

1. Military strategies- there are a great number of texts out there, both classical and more modern- a couple of classical ones that come to mind- anything by Clausewitz, and of course, Sun Tzu, more modern military strategy, which right now for me revolves around counter-insurgency approaches, for example, Galula and Kilcullen.  The primary point I want to make here is that I've never seen a military strategy that advocates a full frontal assault without some compelling circumstances. Some may say, why of course they wouldn't do that! But I have read many times where people refer to military strategy in this way- and it is clear they really haven't thought deeply about the subject.

While there are some strategies which use blunt force, and some strategies which treat military personnel as expendable and sacrifice them in large numbers, my experience and observations of great military leaders is that they recognize the substantial variety of approaches to be taken and balance out the many conditions and work very hard to adopt the strategy and tactics that are most appropriate for the situation.  At the most basic, they ask questions about what are we looking at in terms of mission, enemy, terrain, troops, and time. They think carefully about the resources at their disposal, just what they are trying to achieve, and the lives of the men and women that they will put in harm's way. I've been amazed at how we've asked our military leaders to conduct our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with an almost zero tolerance policy for casualties.  Each death is tragic. I personally mourn the loss of friends in the process. That being said, when one looks at the casualty rates in previous conflicts compared to the current conflicts, we are clearly in a new era.

2. Military leadership styles: One of the "benefits" of my being called up during my last semester of my MBA program a while back was that I got to create 2 or 3 self-designed reading courses as I was not going to be bale to attend that last semester. One of the reading courses I created involved a set of texts on leadership.  I chose as one of the texts the Army's field manual on leadership, in military parlance, FM 22-100. 

I tire of those who consistently portray military leadership as "autocratic". While there is clearly a hiearchical facet of life in the military, again, the best leaders I've observed demonstrate all of the best of what Lominger likes to refer to as "learning agility", including those aspects most clearly tied to leadership. Lowe's has also invested in Blanchard's situational leadership models, and again, I'd suggest that the "effective" examples of leadership in the military that I have seen take such principles and go much further with them. Quite a while ago, I thoroughly enjoyed getting coached and corrected by a basic training battalion commander who did a better job using the socratic method than any professor I've ever witnessed. I had to stifle a grin and giggle as my third person self would watch my interactions with this lieutenant colonel. It would have been inappropriate to tell him at the time, "Dude- awesome execution of socratic method!". I've seen great military leaders model some of Marshall Goldsmith's feedback, that many times, the best leadership approach is to resist the temptation to "add value" by putting their voice and stamp on some work that their subordinates have created. 

In any case, the comments about military leadership are intended to convey my argument that those who characterize military leadership as autocratic, or vice versa, have missed something. 

No comments: