Lessons Learnt From The Army: How to Fight to Win

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Leading NZ soldiers is an incredible challenge, responsibility and privilege.

Much of my working life has been spent as an Army Officer, initially as a regular and later in the Reserves. I have found that the skills I learned and applied leading soldiers are very relevant and transferable for leading teams and driving business execution; especially in this increasingly dynamic and ever changing marketplace.

As you can imagine, the challenge of leading men and women who are working in dangerous roles in challenging environments requires a high level of trust, empathy and teamwork.

The Army places great emphasis on leadership skills and invests heavily in leadership training and development at all levels. Training courses to enhance leadership skills continue right through to those at the very highest ranks of the Army.

Here are six key things that the Army teaches their leaders in order to “fight to win”:

1. Remain calm under fire.

That’s not to say that fear is not present, in fact it is. However, to “keep calm and carry on” regardless of the situation is something you can learn. It is the golden rule for keeping your head and working through a logical process in order to respond to a hostile or changing situation. Being calm and thinking clearly are essential requirements to evaluate what is happening and to make effective decisions.

2. Any plan is better than no plan.

Without a plan you cannot inspire others to follow you. Having a plan is the starting point for successful execution. Even if the plan is not the right one, making a decision and creating a plan will save lives and generate positive activity. A good team will back itself to quickly adjust a plan so that it is effective.

3. No plan survives the start line.

The Army recognizes that in every situation there is another party that can influence the situation. Not just the enemy, but terrain, equipment, weather, civilian populations, and even animals can influence a plan. All the various scenarios that might happen should be considered and planned for so that the plan can be quickly adjusted if required. The fact a team has planned and engaged together allows it to quickly iterate the plan as needed.

4. Maintain momentum.

In any situation there needs to be swift action, and momentum needs to be maintained to ensure successful execution. Slowing or stopping any operation means it is difficult to get going again. It reminds me of the saying “When going through hell….keep going!”

5. Teamwork is a defining factor.

A group working together and supporting each other to achieve the defined goal will greatly lift the chance of success. Training together, working together, getting to know one another, and building trust all help to build teamwork. Good teams keep going when the going gets tough, and they overcome blockages in order to win.

6. Time is seldom wasted in planning or recon.

Taking the time as a leadership team to plan ahead for future operations, alternative scenarios, routes to be taken, areas of interest, and likely courses of action is seldom wasted. Planning and reconnaissance actually saves time, saves resources, and in many cases, people’s lives.

There are many situations in business where these skills can be applied. Strategic thinking, strategic planning, working together to build teamwork and trust, as well as incorporating a planning cadence that allows a business to quickly alter a plan and then change direction as required – are things a smart business leader does.

Influencing and inspiring people gets stuff done. That’s called “business execution” and by applying these six lessons from the Army you too can inspire your team to “fight to win.”

The Power of Leader Reflection

Leading From The Front

I am lucky enough to work with a number of very effective professional leaders (Chief Executives, Founding/Managing Directors & Board Chairs) as they seek to perform & stay at the top of their game. These people are leading high performance teams and growing influential brands.

FullSizeRender Reflection requires: A journal, a small amount of regular time & to be a priority. This is what I use.

Most leaders find the reality of leading to be a lonely place. Many seek a confidential sounding board that helps and supports their thinking in a supportive coaching environment away from their work place, their work team & their Board of Directors. They are looking to invest in themselves and in doing so the health and well being of those people and organisations they lead.

Whilst specific situations vary there is always a start point of seeking to be better at leading themselves. It kind…

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Leadership Panel:Gainesville Florida

This is an edited version of a leadership panel I took part in during a recent visit to Florida. It involves leaders from Infinity Energy, Santa Fe College & the University of Florida and covers the topics of Leading in Business today, change, disruption, execution and the challenge of leading people. The audience includes 135 business members from the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce. I learnt a lot taking part in this and it makes for some interesting topics.

The Pivot: Staying at the Top of Your Game

How do the top performing teams in the world stay at the top of their game? Sports teams, racing teams, leading brands, innovative teams, military teams and many others? What do leaders at the top of their game do to stay at the top? What does this mean for business?

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The best teams change before change is needed. They pivot and iterate to stay ahead of the crowd.

Right now things in business are going pretty well. There is uncertainty in the medium and longer term as to what is going to happen in money markets, commodity markets, the Chinese/US or EU economies. There is a lot of technology disruption starting to show up on the fringes of even the least tech savvy industries. Change is coming and whether it is disruption, a softening economy, a total global meltdown or even a major political event we will all need to navigate it.

The RESULTS Group work with good companies and proactive leaders who want to get better at what they do. Our clients tend to be the long term brands that over decades have performed exceptionally well. They are actively seeking to stay at the top of their game.

In the next 5-10 years all of us leading (me included) are going to face more change than the world has seen in the last century. It will be fast, ongoing and relentless and will be an exciting and challenging time to lead. Some commentators say we are in year 2 of a 35 year technology disruption. How true is this and how will it affect our own business is open to interpretation but we are all starting to see the wave of change.

To stay at the top in any professional environment there is a need to develop a culture of continuous learning. If we look at the All Blacks (the most successful global high performance professional sports team/brand with a winning record of 86%, two back to back world cups & recently voted the best team in the world across all codes). In James Kerr’s book “Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life” you will see Chapter 2 is entitled “Adapt”. In essence the commentary is all around “When you are at the top of your game, change your game.” This is about changing consciously before you need to, in order to stay ahead of the competition and to remain the best of the best. To keep an edge or a sustainable point of difference.

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A summary picture of the key chapters & topics of the book “Legacy” by James Kerr.

I like to refer to the term “pivoting”. I saw this in action during some work I recently did at the University of Florida, assessing entrepreneurial engineering teams and the projects they were completing for private business. They were presenting what they had achieved and were seeking feedback so they could iterate and improve their project. They were seeking a “pivot” through good insights and application of ideas.

The best leaders and companies we work with are already pivoting at a time when they are performing well. They know through experience that the good times won’t last. To stay ahead of their competition and to navigate change they must understand what success continues to look like. How do they do this?

Those CEO’s proactively keeping ahead of the crowd prioritise the following;

  • They invest in their own development and leadership skills so they can lead smart innovative people in a collaborative way.
  • They spend time in strategic and operational planning with their teams, senior leadership teams and functional teams. They continuously define the priorities and focus of action.
  • Actively build an aligned plan to execute continuous change and constantly reflect on it, revise it and iterate it to make it better. They empower their people to lead parts for the execution.
  • Focus on execution and getting the important things done.
  • Seek the best advice on technology disruption, the economy, competitors, new entrants and possible substitute products and services.
  • Stay very close to their clients and know what they value, expect and want improved. They build collaborative and close relationships through many channels including social media.
  • Invest in leadership development (and education) and focus on increasing staff engagement to build resilience and an ownership mentality. This aids the change process and brings innovative and collaborative thinking to the fore.
  • Focus on the numbers. What gets measured can be managed.
  • Actively disrupt the companies “business as usual” in a positive way so as to build capacity and capability in a continuous way. This allows the organisation and the team to scale up in a long term sustainable way.
  • Make the tough decisions early.
  • Learn the lessons of previous economic downturns and change projects so as to ensure the same mistakes are not made again, and
  • Recognise success and continue to have fun along the journey.

This all sounds simple (and it is) but it is not easy. It takes focus, good strong proactive leaders committed to ensuring the important things happen and not just the urgent things of modern business. It is about going beyond reactive firefighting and consciously picking & executing the plan for/route to success.

Staying at the top of your game is about changing before you are forced to change. This means having a good team committed to getting incrementally better at what they do.

It is about confidence and momentum.

Just start the journey.

 

The Power of Leader Reflection

I am lucky enough to work with a number of very effective professional leaders (Chief Executives, Founding/Managing Directors & Board Chairs) as they seek to perform & stay at the top of their game. These people are leading high performance teams and growing influential brands.

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Reflection requires: A journal, a small amount of regular time & to be a priority. This is what I use.

Most leaders find the reality of leading to be a lonely place. Many seek a confidential sounding board that helps and supports their thinking in a supportive coaching environment away from their work place, their work team & their Board of Directors. They are looking to invest in themselves and in doing so the health and well being of those people and organisations they lead.

Whilst specific situations vary there is always a start point of seeking to be better at leading themselves. It kind of stands to reason that if you can’t lead yourself extremely well then there is no way you will lead others at a high level. There has to be be balance. Often while sitting and listening to a CEO articulate an issue, situation or people problem they face they will say “You know what just saying that out loud has given me the clarity I need to make the decision.” The process of reflection is a powerful leadership tool so how do you make it part of what you do?

Reflection is a critical skill for any leader to have and it is always among the first few things that are discussed when leaders seek personal development. In fact there is a considerable body of research that backs this up. This article from HBR: Want to be an Outstanding Leader? Keep a Journal outlines just how powerful this tool is. It has some great suggestions and methodology and online there are many more such articles.

I have personally kept a reflections journal (pictured above) for the last 4 years. It provides insights, clarity and decisions for me as a CEO & consultant;

  • Setting aside regular quiet time to update and reflect on what I am seeing and how I am feeling about my role and the people I lead & influence. I actually tend to use air flights as the time to do this i.e. travelling to or from Auckland etc. On a recent return flight from the USA I wrote 14 pages of reflections, ideas, lessons learnt, observations about people I had met and who had influenced me.
  • I tend to write based against my Purpose and Values. This provides a framework and often as I reflect on situations I challenge whether I am living my Purpose and Values. Often this process alone can provide clarity to difficult decisions or provide the reflection that a decision I have made was the right one.
  • Focussing on the situation and how I am feeling about it allows me to deal with the big issues that tend to keep you awake at night. It allows closure & to reflect on not only my actions but the actions of others.
  • Every 6 months or so I read back over my journey. When you do this you see how far you have come in the way and level you think at,  plus exactly what you have achieved. It serves as a story about your journey.
  • Use clever titles such as “What am I seeing?’, “What lessons did I learn here?”, “What do I need to change?”, “Did I live my Purpose & Values in this situation?”, “Why did this not work?”.
  • I find an actual hard copy journal and hand writing is far more effective than online options I have tried in the past. Use a journal with blank pages.
  • Capturing lessons learnt is vital to ensure the same mistakes are not made time & time again. It means different outcomes occur rather than just those that don’t work.
  • I use this journal when I seek one on one coaching to keep me at the top of my game.

Like all habits it initially takes disciplined focus to carry your notebook and to set aside regular time to reflect. Supporting other leaders to do this also takes time. Some are naturally good at it, whilst others need help to be able to see that bigger picture & what is really going on. Over time this becomes just part of who we are and what we do. Over time these CEO’s use the same skills to help individuals and teams within their organisation to reflect, learn and grow. The best leaders are the best managers, mentors & coaches. The best leaders develop other leaders.

In this space the focus needs to be on behavioural competencies rather than technical ones. CEO’s will always talk about people (developing others, supporting them with change, altering behaviours, dealing with poor performance, developing a great culture, getting others to step up, building a sense of team) and the softer skills rather than the technical skills. This tends to be because we get taught technical skills all through life, education & work but no one teaches us the soft/people skills unless we are lucky enough to have good mentors, teachers or a work environment that invests heavily in leadership development. They are always seeking to develop their skills as a generalist leader rather than those of a technical specialist.

The role of a leader is to disrupt business as usual & to grow the capability and capacity of people and the organisation. Reflection is a critical tool in self development and the leadership & influence of others.

How do you reflect?

Average “Pisses” Us Off: Why we do What we do

I am often asked what we do and why we do it. A few weeks back I spent some time working with my good friend & Leadership Expert John Spence in Florida. We took the opportunity to shoot a few videos and I thought it was time to articulate this starting with this Introduction to The RESULTS Group.

Why do we do what we do?

The RESULTS Group exists to make an “intentional difference” to peoples lives. We love what we do and are very good at it. We work with leaders across many organisations and industries as they seek to make a true difference in their lives and the lives of those they lead. We work with good companies seeking high performance results. We keep them ahead of disruption and support them to grow capability and capacity……to execute the important things. The connection we have with people inspires us to go that little bit further, to do what it takes to make a significant impact on people and the organisations they choose to lead and to be part of.

Our Mission (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is to disrupt Business Advisory (to redefine Advisory in a good way) by 2020 for High Performance Businesses and Leaders.

What gets under our skin?

We hate that Advisers provide average advice and charge a lot of money. We are sick & tired of the fact that the advice is generally just Accounting advice from people who have no understanding of how to implement change or to apply the advice to real life situations. These same people are being significantly disrupted in their own industry and are often not living what they are teaching.

Other advisers make it a dark art and seek to charge as if they have the “magic bullet.” Often their work is not tangible nor the difference they make measurable. Sometimes their clients struggle to apply it and in frustration don’t get the break throughs. Further those dispensing the advice have not led at a high level themselves. They have not made real life mistakes, earned a few battle scars nor dealt with the behavioural challenges of leading people. They can’t tell real stories that bring things to life.How can you give advice if you have never done it? Worse still these advisers rarely ask for feedback from their clients.

It is not good enough and we are doing something about it.

What do we do?

We work with good Companies to support them to execute their strategy. We are their “Strategy Execution Partners.”  We collaboratively work with our clients as the “generalist” in their business. They are after all the experts and have achieved a lot over many years.

We ask the questions, we create the discussions within their teams, we apply a framework to bring it to life. Further we don’t keep it a secret. In fact our frameworks and tools are freely available and based on the research of the worlds experts. The value is not in the tool but in the discussions and alignment of the leaders in the business. It lies in the application of theory into the current business reality.

Our clients are privately held established Companies seeking to intentionally get better at what they do.

Core Business is getting the important things done which means supporting Business Leaders to disrupt the day to day Business as Usual Operations of the Business to grow capability & capacity. This means supporting them to change and adopt new ways of leading and focus. We help them to “Simplify their Business” by ensuring they have a simple Strategic Plan that their people can execute.

Often we support Leaders to develop their skills to lead at the next level or to grow and develop the leaders in their organisation so they can step back or bring the Company under management. This may be at the Governance, Advisory Board, CEO, GM or Senior Leadership Team level.

It sounds simple (and it generally is) but it is never easy to make a commitment to incrementally get better & better in an ongoing way. It takes focus and requires the important things to be done rather than the urgent.

This is about building a culture of high performance, learning, growing and coaching. The best leaders are the best coaches, managers, mentors and life long learners.

We know it works too. Our clients tell us each 6 months exactly what difference it makes in their lives & businesses. We also measure it so we have the data to show a very good return on their investment of time and money. There are no magic bullets either. It takes focus, hard work, clever thinking, tough discussions and a “try new things, fail fast & iterate the plan” approach to leading smart people.

Taking a long term approach to working with client companies we know they never leave our networks. They may disengage as a paying client but they re engage when they need us. We often work with clients for 3, 4 or 5 years (longer with many) and they come back as they need to grow to another level.

We also have fun, apply the same frameworks to our own business and live our Purpose and Values each day. Our people have been there and done it. Sure they have the academic qualifications but more importantly they have the real life experience of leadership & they love what they do. We make a difference & that it is valued by those we choose to work with.

But don’t take our word for it either…….ask any of our clients & as you join our networks there is plenty of opportunity to do this. 

Do Something different
Get a different result rather than learn the same thing again.

 

 

The Ever Powerful: Purpose & Legacy

Last week I spent time in Florida doing some work with Top 100 Leadership & Business thought leader John Spence. I spent time working with him and a number of other business leaders on “Purpose”. Most people (and organisations) know “What” they do and many know “How” they do it. Not many take the time to work through “Why” they do it.

Even more importantly very few people take the time to talk this through with their business team. This process starts the alignment process & inspires like minded people. It is the beginning of “Tribe” and the “Being of team.”

A great start point is the book “Legacy” by author James Kerr. In this video John Spence talks a bit about the subjects.

 

Don’t want to Change? Just Wait it out……

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A fantastic quote from All Black Coach Steve Hansen that applies as much to business (and the change ahead) as it does to Rugby, England 2015

This blog on Linkedin by Ziyad Jawabra delivers a very powerful message (Link Here) about Nokia. A global company & well known technology brand recently acquired by Microsoft. The CEO tearfully announces “We didn’t do anything wrong but somehow we lost!”

Powerful why? Because change is constant and ruthless to those who ignore or can’t navigate it. In fact it is worse than that, knowing change is needed is very different to actually leading or executing it. Earlier in the year I published my 3rd annual survey results whereby I asked over 200 CEO’s what they had learnt as leaders in 2015 and what they think they face in 2016 (Link Here: CEO Survey) and as you can see it is all about the challenge of change. The impact of constant change, changing fast enough to meet market and competitor moves and most important of all change to meet client expectations. On top of that staying profitable and having a culture that builds resilient people because change is tough.

We work as the Strategic Execution Partner in our clients businesses and are their most trusted adviser supporting strategy and leader development. Most importantly we are enabling Strategic Execution i.e. the doing bit. Working across dozens of industries with a vast number of clients I can assure you the problems are the same and simplicity is needed. Change is now constant, adds to complexity and requires agile thinking & speed of action. Make mistakes and fail fast (iterate the plan fast) is what my Chairman tells me as Chief Executive and this too applies to all leading.

The next 5 – 10 years holds more change, technology innovation and industry disruption than we have ever seen in business so it is a skill every leader must master to prevent the situation we have just seen a Nokia. The alternative is to sit and wait and let the wave of market change pound you.

How do you keep it focussed, simple and lead in constant change? That takes commitment to intentionally  learning new skills.

My Memories of 20 Feb 11: Ground zero post the Christchurch Earthquake

20 February 2011 (5 years ago) at just after 1pm was one that shook is all, a major earthquake. Our office building evacuated & we headed for home. That in itself was going to be challenge with a full central city evacuation under way & bridges out. Short Texts came through to tell me my immediate family were alive & safe. My brothers house was hit by rocks I knew & Dad was in it…..but just how bad things were was to later be a bit of a shock.

I had left the Army in 2004 but was in the throes of rejoining the Army Reserve.

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Central CHCH 1.46pm 20 Feb 11

A call from the XO of the Battalion (the only one to come through in a jammed cell network) redirected me to Army duty. I parked my car and proceeded from Sydenham to the city centre. In my office attire I walked through liquefaction and what was a scene out of a movie. It was 1.30pm.

I walked past a building lying across a lane of Montreal st, stopped to hug a distraught older woman with half a hair dye and foils in. Distraught from watching a bus get crushed she was walking to Oxford 50km away crying.

I overheard builders discussing how they should secure their high rise site and get home.

My task from the Army was to find the Mayor, provide the NZ Defence emergency cell numbers and to proceed to the Civil Defence bunker on Kilmore st. Later I was to discover my wife’s bravery in getting Caetana from school amongst collapsing cliffs and then helping Dad who was trapped in my brothers house that was destroyed by rocks.

The mayors staff had been evacuated after an aftershock from the new gallery building. I passed on the info to Bob Parker & his Ops Manager, gathered a couple of soldiers who were there looking to help and pushed on to find the civil defence bunker, my next task was to fill in as a situation/operations officer until a regular Infantry officer could get in from Burnham. Little did I know it would take many hours for him to arrive.

My first job back in Army service for 7 years.

The bunker was hard to find in the chaos, I passed through the emergency aid station in Cramner square and through many police check points.

In the bunker I found my old Army boss, Baden Ewart in command. Baden was working in the medical world and was stepping up given that the civil defence staff were in Wellington the day of the quake.

I sat in on the briefing of the current situation and it was apparent that a lot of people were hurt and killed. Early sky TV reports showed the CTV and PGG building collapses and I could hear the fire and police radio traffic spelling out the terrible challenges they faced.

Andrew Howe was the ops officer (an ex army friend and colleague). I was put in an office with the fire liaison officer. All the Army assets were in Timaru in preparation for a large defence exercise and by chance HMNZS Canterbury had docked at Lyttelton minutes prior to the big quake. It was full of armoured and military vehicles and soldiers that would help.

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The Civil Defence Bunker, 20 Feb 11. Andrew Howe and others discuss the situation, approx 4pm

My role was to link between the civil defence command post and the Army command post in Burnham and to support military flights bringing high risk search teams, generators, water treatment units and medical assets into the city. We were coordinating fuel and power for the fire and police services to keep operating and prioritising transport heavy lift and military communications assets.

40 mins into it someone came into the command post and announced that it looked like the Copthorne Hotel might collapse on the bunker. With ongoing large aftershocks hammering the city it was possible although a bit dramatic I thought. Baden said “Langston go out and check that”. So out I went and looked at a 12 story building leaning over and definitely looking like a potential collapse.

My report ” I’m no engineer Baden but it’s not looking flash”. Someone did mention that the bunker was designed to withstand a building collapsing on it but then who would dig us out. WTF?

And so through the shock and chaos a lot of good people worked to make sense of it and to make a difference.

At a little after 7pm I was relieved by an Infantry Captain (he had to park in Riccarton and find the bunker) and walked the 7km around the cordon to my car in Sydenham. A full cordon was in place and with no ID the police made me go the long way through the park and around the 4 avenues. Our office was in the cordon (for 6 weeks) and I arrived at my car covered in mud.

My trip home to Sumner paused at my brothers place where I surveyed the damage, the rocks on his house, the tunnel my dad escaped the 2nd floor from and the boat that had caught fire. Ed was smiling but shaken. My family had tents on the lawn and Dad was quite badly shocked after his experience. We settled into a night of aftershocks, sleeping on the lounger floor and the start of months without water, sewerage or power.

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My brothers house suffering rock damage. My father was lucky to escape unhurt.

I will always remember that day, just how surreal it all was and the part we all played in a difficult situation and uncertain environment.

It was a fitting baptism back into our Army and Months later I received an unexpected letter of commendation from the Brigade commander thanking me for my work that day. Many people did what needed to be done and I was proud to play a small part for the NZ Army.

I never did get around to claiming that first day of army pay (it didn’t seem right) but it was worth it for the adventure & I’ll chalk it up as a donation!

……. And so we remember.

Some of my pictures of that day are attached. We were one of the lucky families that all survived although we were all affected by those who did not.