Many of the people that have arrived at this article have already entered this environment postured for war. Please lower your shields and spears, I come in peace.

I recently ran a poll where I braved the question: “Has political correctness gone too far?”

Poll Results - Political Correctness

Honestly, I knew I was opening a can of worms, but at the same time I have grown weary of tip toeing around issues. As I grow older and better define who I am, I also grow in resilience and thick skin.

What is it about this topic that polarises people so greatly? I have invested some significant thought into the topic and I feel I might have stumbled upon some insights.

Both parties are mostly saying the same thing, but in a different way. The reason for the confusion stems from the definitions we subscribe to and the frame of reference we use to contextualise the topic. Moreover, going through the extensive comments a number of patterns have emerged.

For the purposes of this article let’s break the poll into the two groups. The YES and NO groups.

YES group (those who believe that political correctness has gone too far). The emergent themes in the comments were:

  • Political correctness was a method of control in order to censor those that wish to speak the truth, resulting in the deceleration of cultural evolution.
  • People’s proclivity for taking offence was largely subjective and that people who were easily offended were overly sensitive and poorly adjusted to deal with conflict.
  • Censoring language was a violation of the communicator’s rights (particularly freedom of speech).
  • It demonstrates a lack of respect to censor people from the ‘truth’, or other people’s opinions.
  • Political correctness was a mechanism used by left wing individuals as a means of controlling people, under a banner of ‘politeness.’

NO group (those who believe that political correctness has not gone too far). The emergent themes in the comments were:

  • Political correctness is often a term used by people who wish to get away with disrespecting others, or not being held accountable for their actions.
  • Adding ‘political’ to the term adds to the divisiveness.
  • People who use the label ‘political correctness’ are often the ones ‘harassing’ others.
  • We do not fully understand our own biases and assumptions and therefore do not always know the damage we are causing others. The linkage here was towards accountability.
  • The cultural change is a natural evolution of society as we become more enlightened to the effects we have on others.
  • The main drive for change is centred around respect for others, and the provision for harmonious and inclusive communities and teams.

What was immediately obvious were the consistencies in language associated with respect, communication, labels, and oppression.

Assumptions

Both sides assumed ill intent.

Generally speaking, the YES category made the assessment that the other parties were deliberately trying to silence and suppress the objective truth, often because it was felt they couldn’t handle it. The NO category assumed that the yes voters were deliberately trying to change the system in an attempt to get away with doing the wrong things. This was not an isolated observation either. There were hundreds of comments across the breadth of conversations attributed to shares from the original post. In essence, both parties assumed the worst of each other.

The assertions they made about each other force fed the narrative of evilness and divisiveness which helped to alienate the other group. It also allowed people to stay comfortable exactly where they were, self-assured in the realisation that they were right, and the others were wrong.

I think if everyone is truly honest with themselves, they will realise that most people’s intent is pure. Most people I know are trying to make the best of their situations with the knowledge and resources they have available. This is not to say that there are not evil people out there, there most definitely are. But I would suggest they are not as prevalent as we would like to convince ourselves of, particularly when we are trying to make generalised assertions about political sidings and viewpoints.

Acknowledgement of this is a great a start because it allows us to focus on the problem, not the person.

“Assume the worst about people and you get the worst”

Ha-Joon Chang

Bias

After looking at the results I think bias is one of the central issues. Not only about the topic of political correctness, but about most divisive topics in society today.

There is a term called ‘confirmation bias’ which explains the “tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.” This is not a small issue. In fact, it is an incredibly dangerous and divisive issue in society today. Quite simply, what you are looking for you will find. The cumulative effects of this bias leads people to polarise. It acts in a manner that is similar in its characteristics to feedback in a microphone and speaker arrangement when the sound transmitted from a speaker is picked up by the microphone which sends a message back to the speaker to increase the volume, with the cycle ever-repeating. It is a viscous and escalating cycle that if left unchecked results in damage to the system.

Similarly, confirmation bias prompts someone to look for information that proves their existing narrative, then guides them towards finding information that proves it, then repeats the process. The repetition pulls the person further along the spectrum each time.

In this sense, we must always ask ourselves whether we would rather be right, or correct. They are fundamentally different things.

“I think it’s outrageous if a historian has a ‘leading thought’ because it means they will select their material according to their thesis.”

Antony Beevor

Filtering & Context

A commonly overlooked issue with people is our tendency to filter out information. Not just a little bit of information, but nearly all of it! Our brains are geared in such a way that they are trying to make sense of the world around us and navigate the incredible complexities it provides. The result of which is our inability to measure the world objectively and accurately.

No better example of this exists than in the unreliability of ‘eye-witness testimonies’ in court cases. “Although witnesses can often be very confident that their memory is accurate when identifying a suspect, the malleable nature of human memory and visual perception makes eyewitness testimony one of the most unreliable forms of evidence.” Greg Hurley, National Center for State Courts.

Our brains have managed complexity by attempting to reduce the scope of our focus. Our senses spend most of the time trying to remove the white noise and focus on the things that are deemed more important. This is a great function when used correctly, but without constant and careful attentiveness it can rapidly spiral into a stasis of bigotry, ignorance, and misinformation.

At the grass roots level, it results in ever extending separation of groups who in reality have many similarities or consistencies. What is scary is that the basis of our information, claims and opinions are most likely grounded in minimal truth, or as a minimum an absence of context.

When we delve ever deeper into the specific details of issues, we learn the utility and applicability of context. What might be true in one scenario is categorically wrong in another. To make matters even more complex is when we consider that someone might be right and wrong at the exact same time, depending on the frame of reference and context of the scenario. What is more challenging is when we consider that neither party might be right at all, and we may not have even stumbled across the correct answer yet as a collective.

If we fail to get into the detail and rely solely on the information provided by our senses, subjective experience and filters we are doomed to miss opportunities afforded in understanding context and truth.

Do not be so sure that what you have experienced is the truth.

“What you see is filtered through your beliefs. You rarely see “reality.” You see your version of it.”

Joe Vitale

Values and Beliefs

So where do we go from here? How can we start finding common language and understanding in order to have an amicable meeting of minds?

I think the path forward lies in our understanding and distinction of values and beliefs.

Values are guiding principles that overshadow our understanding of the world. They largely remain extant throughout our lives. They assist us in prioritising our efforts, altering our behaviours, and defining our identities.

Beliefs are different. They are an acceptance of something being true, often without proof. Beliefs can and do change throughout the course of our lives as our understanding of the world becomes more refined and higher resolution. Beliefs are also often used to help navigate specific situations, scenarios, or schemas.

This distinction is highly relevant. We often place too much weight on beliefs as opposed to values. We form allegiances with those people who hold the same belief system as opposed to those with the same values, and this works up until the point where our belief system is disproven or is made irrelevant due to context or additional information. Then the person is hit with an existential crisis that directly challenges their ego and core identity. People will then do one of two things:

  • Knuckle down to finding evidence that proves their belief correct and by extension, that they were right (confirmation bias).
  • Reassess their belief system to see whether it needs to change, and determine to what extent.

The former option is the most often to occur, resulting in further separation from the truth and a regression from personal growth.

The highest performing individuals and teams make a deliberate attempt to surround themselves with people who have like-values but different beliefs. The diversity is what fuels innovation and creativity, but it comes at a cost – awareness and accuracy.

The chaos and uncertainty that is inevitably created as a result of breaking down and rebuilding people’s belief systems is subsequently glued back together with the power of the values they all subscribe to. In the first instance, it is terrifying to be proven wrong, but knowing it came from an angle of love and was triggered by the pursuit of truth is what ultimately confirms its importance and relevance.

When implemented correctly the relationship survives and thrives, and a new cycle of growth is formed. A belief system is challenged, the relationship is re-glued by values, everyone grows, then the process is repeated.

Leadership & Influence

I would like to take the opportunity to share some advice (for what it’s worth) from my experience as a leader, learnt mostly from my mistakes.

If you are a leader you should not choose to be offended. The moment you become offended the dialogue stops. The moment the dialogue stops you lose your influence. The moment you lose your influence the person drifts in the other direction.

It takes significant courage, fortitude, and discipline to listen to people intently, absorbing their entire message. All this, whilst trying to find the context for why/how they arrived at that conclusion. It is a well recorded communication skill to be able to accurately and honestly depict another person’s opinion (in all its detail) without manipulating it into a narrative that suits our own purposes. This is an incredibly powerful skill to foster and maintain enduring relationships.

Our egos are ultimately the trap. They encourage us to cut others off and impart our opinion over theirs. The moment we choose to become offended we have decided to focus on the person, not the problem, and this does not work.

The other thing to consider is that the loudest people in the room very rarely holds the greatest influence. Be careful when the ‘squeaky wheel’ individual claims to represent the interests of an entire group, rarely is this the case (in my experience). It is quite often to find a silent majority who hold relatively consistent opinions. This group are sometime reticent to communicate because it is perceived to be too hard to deal with the louder more dominating individuals, and is therefore fraught with avoidable dangers.

This is a shame because it speaks to the fundamentals around communication, openness, and honesty which professedly scaffold our communities and cultures. Maybe more important to recognise is the lack of dialogue and communication leads to regret, which subsequently morphs into resentment. I see this happening with the two groups in the political correctness debate, as people routinely mention their inability to speak out without being attacked.

If you think the damages associated with offending people are bad, wait until you see the results of drawn out resentment. They are quite literally the worst.

Closing

So, has political correctness gone too far? The answer is yes, no and it depends (very politically correct I know, but it is true).

The answer is case specific to individual societies and cultures. It is in varying levels in different places throughout the world, all of which hold different political structures and systems. A generalised answer about the topic or the people that voted is arguably unhelpful and only serves to fuel bias.

One could reasonably say that 84% of people saying something has gone too far is an objective indicator to consider that there is likely something amiss. But if it is to be fixed it requires further analysis and contextualisation to find those root causes that are triggering this answer.  It also needs people to leave their egos at the door. It is important to note that had I asked the question in a different way, it is likely I would have received an entirely different result. The frame of reference is important and cannot be overlooked for the sake of convenience.

All this considered, the incredible sway in one direction (based on the way I asked the question) might trigger some people to reassess the way they communicate with others. It might challenge preconceptions that individuals previously had on the topic. It might pressure test some people’s beliefs – and that is good thing. Hopefully, it might have shocked some people to delve further into the topic in a manner that might challenge their own belief systems, or the way they interact with others.

If it has achieved this, then we have collectively taken one small step in the right direction and that is a better place than we were previously. Sometimes that is all we can hope for.

Safe travels, and best wishes.

I hope you have enjoyed this article

When I was a young boy I made a monumental mistake.

My equally rebellious friends and I had managed to source a big box of matches. We thought it would be a great idea to go down to the makeshift BMX ramps which were located in the nearby pine forest that surrounded our suburb. One thing led to the next and before we knew it we had figured out that if you hold the match in a specific way and flick it with your other finger then you can shoot them at each other. So that is exactly what we did. We spent nearly an hour burning each other by shooting flaming matches at each other. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do at the time, but in the back of my mind I knew that if I got caught my Dad would kill me!

The very same man that achieved so much for so long by focusing intense energy on areas of his life that were deemed high priorities. This included his family, his work, his sport and community groups.

So, with this as knowledge I continued to burn my friends, as they burnt me – laughing and carrying on the entire time. Until something went wrong…

Who would have thought that hundreds of flaming matches in combination with a dry and arid Australian bushland would be a combination for a disaster? It didn’t take long before we realised we had started a small bush fire off to our flanks. We all snapped into gear taking off our shirts and trying to put out the small fire which by this time was beginning to spread. Then I thought to myself if Mum knew what I was doing with my T-Shirt right now, worse than killing me, she’d be disappointed!

The same woman that had selflessly focused on our family, providing us with good hearty values and morals. She had admirably progressed herself with poise, tact and dignity as she moved up the Corporate ladder into increasingly respected positions of leadership.

As it turned out, with a little bit of luck from some lateral wind we won the battle. Laying there panting, covered in unnecessary match burns a tall dark looming figure appeared over our heads. It was a man that lived on the borders of the forest we were playing in. He had heard the commotion and realised what was happening. We scattered to the four winds in a desperate attempt to escape. I got away and ran home.

Hours passed. Then a knock at the door…

There was my slightly chubby friend standing next to his Dad. There I was on the inside of the door standing next to my Dad. My heart practically stopped. It was now time to pay the piper. The Dad’s talked to each other. I could feel the rage in my father growing.

What eventuated was something unexpected.

When everyone had left and it was just us in the room, he turned to me and said one thing.

“You know better, where was your self-discipline?”

By no means was this the end of the ‘discussion’ or the ‘disciplinary process’ but it was the one thing I would remember vividly in my bones forever as it had come from one of the most disciplined men I know.

——————-

CONTEXT

Today’s society has evolved so rapidly influencing technology, populations, expansion, globalisation and leadership changes.

But in other ways society has regressed and it has been more subtle and insidious. In many areas within society we have seen a progressive shift away from our personal values as our compass, and personal discipline as our mechanism of delivery.

Slowly but surely, we made it more and more acceptable to withdraw from accountability. The truth has slowly been replaced with whatever language or actions make us more comfortable, instead of those that might keep us honest and accountable. This has been further exacerbated by a narrative that encourages people to be victims. We stopped telling people what they needed to head, and instead reverted to telling them what they wanted to hear. We started making excuses for people in order to avoid having difficult conversations. All this has resulted in a significant paradigm shift that has left many people disenfranchised, disconnected and irrelevant to those around them.

It was Mahatma Gandhi. That said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Most people reading this would agree on one thing. Our minds are often geared to resist change (often due to a lack of incentives, fear of uncertainty or a perceived risk of losing what they already own). So, what is it that can help someone get out of their own way? What can we generally identify as the precursors which will prevent someone from taking positive action in their life? Here are some:

  1. Finding purpose and direction.
  2. Being responsible for the service to others.
  3. Fortitude, resilience and determination.
  4. Prioritisation of efforts.
  5. Plan of attack/delivery.

But these are all just feel good words and phrases unless they are overshadowed by a culture of discipline and action. Without discipline to act on these values and ideals people remain in a state of limbo, always talking a big game but never get anything done. These are the same people that have ‘opinions’ about most things, but rarely have the calloused knuckles of a person who actually works to achieve the goals and commit to the delivery.

DOING THINGS WE DON’T WANT TO DO, BUT NEED TO GET DONE

My time in the military showed me some of the most disciplined people in the world. They would stop at nothing to achieve the goals required for their individual and team success. They understood the interrelationship between self and team success, identifying that in most cases they were one in the same.

  1. If they were scared, they bit their lip and did it anyway.
  2. If they were uncertain, they reminded themselves of their relevance in the team and did it anyway.
  3. If they were under performing, they trained ridiculously hard in order to patch the gap.
  4. If they were hurt they found where they could still provide value and volunteered.

William Feather once stated, “if we do not discipline ourselves, the world will do it for us.”

Looking back now, boy was he right!?

HONESTY

Ask yourself the following questions honestly:

  1. Do you only do things when prompted or influenced by others?
  2. Do you understand your purpose to the point where it influences your daily activities and behaviours?
  3. Are you lazy?
  4. Do you routinely blame external influences or people for your lack of success?
  5. Do you judge other people on their lack of performance, but then demonstrate the same behaviours when no-one is looking?
  6. Are you unhealthy in body and mind, and was it as a result of laziness?

If the answer is unfavorable, then you have some serious life changing choices to make.

ACCOUNTABILITY

It is not someone else’s responsibility to keep you accountable. That responsibility lies solely and squarely on your shoulders.

Moreover, being disciplined does not mean being a jerk or being mean. It has absolutely no connection with being jaded, obtuse, offensive, rude or antisocial – quite the opposite actually. A disciplined person is in control of their behaviour, communication, and deliveries. They accept accountability when they get these things wrong and then subsequently improve without making excuses or demonising the other party.

As we approach the end of the year many of us will start posturing to make our New Year’s Resolutions. Two types of people will emerge from the pack. Those that follow through and commit to long-term behavioural changes, ultimately improving their lives and others. There will be another group of people that will talk a big game, dabble in temporary difficult work and then subsequently quit. The determiner for each of these types will be discipline. Better yet there will be a third group that see no need in waiting for New Years in order to start moving and fixing things, they will start immediately.

BE COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE

Life is not meant to be easy despite our best wishes. Life is experienced in an environment characterised by chaos, uncertainty and friction. The more we choose to place our fates in the environments that surround us the more we lose control of our own futures.

For many, it is time to start being uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable! So uncomfortable that it normalises and you finally realise that you are well positioned to make choices that can significantly improve your life and circumstances, or alternatively float along in a cloud of malaise.

Commit to something small and get it done. Find something slightly more difficult and get it done. Find something even more difficult and get it done…Rinse and repeat until you realise how much control over yourself and your future you really have! Have the discipline to finish something, and then everything.

CONCLUSION

If you want to truly step your life up to the next level then start accepting accountability for your actions. If you know there are behaviours that are unresourceful and are resulting in negative outcomes – Stop them! Surround yourself with people that are also on a journey of betterment. Hold them to account if they are to remain in your circle of influence. They should do the same for you. But, don’t rely on them to get your responsibilities fulfilled.

I trust this message will get to the one person that needs to hear it. It might be the very message which will lead you to a better outcome. It is written from an angle of love and respect.

For those committing to longer term success and are willing to be more disciplined this time around I say ‘Ad Meliora’ – ‘Onwards to better things.’

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We have all heard someone say, “I’m not a pessimist, I am a realist.” It is a phrase that has many different layers to it, and it is definitely a topic worth discussing.

There are many that would argue that the world is a terrible and chaotic place characterised by suffering, confusion, and destruction.

I recently posted a number of content pieces that explained ‘The Principles Of War’, a set of broad and overarching guidelines that acted as a filtering system for the operational and strategic efforts we conducted within the Military. In response to these posts many asked me to collate the information in a central source so that they might apply more reasonably to their businesses and teams.

There is no point in providing a set of principles, guidelines or considerations unless we build a context behind them that establishes relevance.  This is my shot at doing that for the Principles of War in a corporate context.

The Principles of War are a set of guiding principles that act as considerations for military planning and strategy.  It has become apparent that there is some utility in using them in the corporate environment.  In this article, we look at the analysis and interpretation of the principles with that concept in mind.

Simply put, the principles exist to help frame ‘how’ to think and not ‘what’ to think.  This means that we are free to explore whatever is needed to solve the problem.  However, we must be careful to balance our priorities and resources to enable the best possible outcome.

These are the principles in order but not in importance.  Each plan or initiative will see a different prioritisation of each of these principles in order to achieve a different effects or outcome.

  1. The selection and maintenance of the aim
  2. Concentration of force
  3. Cooperation
  4. Economy of effort
  5. Security
  6. Offensive action
  7. Surprise
  8. Flexibility
  9. Sustainment
  10. Maintenance of morale

The situation will see each principle being utilised differently and should be weighted depending on the circumstances, what needs to be achieved and the priorities set out by the planner.  As an example, when developing a concept for client focused service (aim) we may need to bring in another organisation to cover an identified need (cooperation) which we could only build ourselves at a much higher cost (economy of effort).  This joint venture may necessitate an exchange of restricted information (security) to ensure the team is established, trust is built, and we can be demonstrating our ability to adjust to our client’s needs (flexibility/aim).

For this scenario, the client focused service has primacy.  It may look something like this.

Note – ‘the doctrine’ comments are excerpts from Land Warfare Doctrine 1 – The Fundamentals of Land Power 2014 – The Principles of War

THE SELECTION AND MAINTENANCE OF THE AIM

The doctrine – Once the aim has been decided, all effort must continually be directed towards its attainment so long as this is possible, and every plan or action must be tested by its bearing on the aim.

“ Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future ” – Walt Disney

In broad terms, it means to keep the object/ end in mind at every level of the operation. The creation of the aim (end state/ outcome) takes time, energy, and some serious thought. This is true for military and corporate action.

When selecting and maintaining the aim:

  1. Ensure it aligns with your values
  2. Communicate it simply and effectively to those involved
  3. Reinforce the aim at all levels
  4. Resist the urge to ad hoc stray from the aim
  5. Maintain open lines of communication with key stakeholders
  6. Test any changes against its impact on the overall aim
  7. Bring subject matter experts in for objectivity

Know where you are heading before you start. It allows you and your team to align to a common outcome and make decisions as well as maintain momentum in your absence. From CEO to a jobseeker, selecting and maintaining your aim provides the purpose to make sound decisions.

CONCENTRATION OF FORCE

The doctrine – Concentration of force is the ability to apply decisive military force at the right place, at the right time and in such a way as to achieve a decisive result.

“ The talent of the strategist is to identify the decisive point and to concentrate everything on it, removing forces from secondary fronts and ignoring lesser objectives. ” – Carl von Clausewitz

To be successful we need to be able to concentrate our capabilities, at the appropriate time and place, to achieve success. This means knowing what we have, what it can do and where it is going to have the most impact.  Then doing it.  This principle is about be deliberate and even more so, decisive.

In a corporate context this would mean:

  1. Having the funding to support a new project or capitalise on an opportunity
  2. Aligning staff, capital and messaging at a key point to achieve and outcome
  3. Defining areas that are irrelevant for expenditure
  4. Having a surge capability to reinforce success
  5. Knowing the strategy and communicating key locations and times for action
  6. Making decisions within the time to be effective
  7. Building alignment, momentum and energy to decisive points in the plan

We cannot spend everything on anything.  Prioritise those actions that will have the highest impact and align to the strategy.  Then build up the required resources, staff and capital to seize an opportunity.  This is a deliberate and defined process.

COOPERATION

The doctrine – Cooperation within joint combined arms interagency teams, allies and coalition partners is vital for success. Only in this way can the resources and energies of each be harnessed so as to achieve success.

” It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed. ” – Charles Darwin

Vital to success is the ability to bring together multiple agencies to achieve an overall effect.  What this means in a practical sense is to build teams that cover each other’s gaps.  We cannot know or be great at everything, so we join forces with others to create something better than our own individual capability.

What cooperation looks like:

  1. Admitting that you are not strong in an area
  2. Aligning with a team that is
  3. Leaving your ego at the door and being prepared to be led depending on the priority
  4. Acknowledging a greater purpose
  5. Sharing information freely and in a timely fashion
  6. Synchronising the efforts in space, time, and priority to create the best impact
  7. Putting the team needs first
  8. Protecting each other and representing them in areas where they don’t represent themselves

Combining efforts takes a great deal of trust, authenticity, and respect.  It may be for a short period or an enduring strategic partnership.  The vulnerabilities of your joined team must be protected at all costs.

ECONOMY OF EFFORT

The doctrine – Economy of effort is the prudent allocation and application of resources to achieve the desired results.

“ The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. ” – Bill Gates

Economy of effort.  This principle deals with ‘playing smart’ and making the full use of available resources. It is in this space that we create a balance in priorities and what we can realistically achieve and sustain.  Appropriate allocation must be nested with the strategy as they are finite.  Priority allocation must go to the main effort that and supporting efforts will be created to enable it.

In a corporate setting this might look like:

  1. Priority resourcing to finding new opportunities
  2. Supporting effort in retaining and consolidated current projects
  3. Reserve resources segregated for identified contingencies

A changing environment requires adaptability and if the main effort/ supporting efforts evolve then the priority of resourcing will change.  At all times maintaining your economy of effort must be nested with the other principles like sustainment.  Appropriate allocation of effort can mean the difference between success and failure.

SECURITY

The doctrine – Security is concerned with measures taken by a command to protect itself from espionage, sabotage, subversion, observation, or surprise. It is of basic concern during any campaign or operation. Security is required to operate effectively with minimal interference from the enemy.

“ Protection and security are only valuable if they do not cramp life excessively. ” – Carl Jung

To be able to continue to operate and/ or obtain opportunities we must first ensure that our own capabilities are as secure as required by the strategy.  Now in times of need, sacrificing security for speed may be that strategy but it must be a planned, deliberate, and precise decision.  Offensive strategies can also be a method of security as we stay mobile, maintain momentum and aren’t targetable.

In a corporate context, this could mean:

  1. Securing your information, strategies and plans from your competitors
  2. Ensuring you have consolidated resources to mitigate uncertainties
  3. Future proof your employee relevance by developing them
  4. Maintain quick and deliberate decision-making cycles to stay ahead of the competition
  5. Securing financial viability by maintaining cashflow
  6. Diversifying to create redundancy to secure operational viability
  7. Mitigating priority risks to reduce critical events

Security of our businesses in physical, financial, strategic, operational and resource-based decisions is important to enable us to operate effectively with minimal disturbance.  This principle allows us to analyse risk and mitigate it before crisis occurs.

OFFENSIVE ACTION

The doctrine – Military forces take offensive action to gain and retain the initiative. This has often taken the form of building momentum and fueling it to snowball the opposition. In most circumstances, such action is essential to the achievement of victory.

“ A little deed done very well is better than a mighty plan kept on paper, undone. Wishes don’t change the world; it’s actions that do this business! ” – Israelmore Ayivor

We need an offensive action (read, a bias for action in this case) to either regain or maintain initiative, or in a corporate context; maintain your competitive advantage, be first to market, launch on a project or create and seize opportunities.  This action must be deliberate and decisive and must be driven towards achieving the established aim.

To effectively implement offensive actions, we should:

  1. Empower people who have a bias for action (as long the strategy supports it)
  2. Consolidate and make use of adequate resources
  3. Ensure the action is sustainable to the end
  4. Be linked to other key stakeholders to support
  5. Use an element of surprise
  6. Make effective use of available resources
  7. Be deliberate and decisive
  8. Be oriented towards the overarching aim or strategy
  9. Be balanced with security of our own capabilities

In a military context this may necessitate combat however, it can also be the use of information actions and achieving influence as well.  Overall, it is important to understand the importance of having a bias for action as it creates momentum, speed in decision making and advantage over your competitors.  This bias will ultimately allow you to create opportunities not just be reactive to them.

SURPRISE

The doctrine – Surprise can produce results out of all proportion to the effort expended and is closely related to security.

“ In conflict, straightforward actions generally lead to engagement, surprising actions generally lead to victory ” – Sun Tzu

In a military term this might require deception or simply being able to disperse and concentrate rapidly, concealing your activity, appearing weak when you are strong etc.  The idea is to be where you are unexpected or where you are expected at a time when you are not, in forces that weren’t planned for.  In a corporate context, this may mean the release of a new strategy, software, market entry, product release in a time and manner that is not expected so that your competitors can’t mimic or get the inside track.

To achieve successful surprise:

  1. Be where you are not expected to be
  2. Appear vulnerable when you are in fact strong
  3. Appear strong when you are weak
  4. Approach markets from different methods
  5. Create strong allies who enable you to scale and disperse rapidly
  6. Know your environment in detail
  7. Understand the importance of timing
  8. Have a strategy and a plan
  9. Show the minimum amount of activity in an area people are expecting so that they don’t know what your actual aim is. It is called a feint.
  10. Be adaptable and ready to respond to your changing environment

This list is ultimately endless but, in a nutshell, utilising surprise not only keeps you and your team excited about new plans, it also enables you to capitalise on opportunities before others know you are even looking at them.

FLEXIBILITY

The doctrine – Flexibility is the capacity to adapt plans to take account of unforeseen circumstances to ensure success in the face of friction, unexpected resistance, or setbacks, or to capitalise on unexpected opportunities.

“ It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. ”  – Charles Darwin

This is your ability to adapt to an ever-changing environment (your AQ).  I would also include your resilience to setbacks, ability to deal with friction, chaos and complexity and to make decisions in uncertainty.  The aim of flexibility is to maintain dynamic decision making across multiple lines of operation and still be synchronised.

To build flexibility:

  1. Identify and communicate the overall aim
  2. Understand your environment
  3. Build a redundancy or reserve of resources
  4. Empower decision making at the lowest level
  5. Simplify communication
  6. Provide realistic and relevant boundaries
  7. Create an environment of innovation
  8. Absorb risk, friction and anxiety for your team

Giving your team and organisation the confidence and capability to accept risk and seize opportunities is a deliberate process.  As leaders we have a responsibility to create the environment and set the conditions for success.  Build and train your teams to be able to understand intent and feel confident to take risks knowing that you have their backs.  Ultimately, gaps and opportunities will be found by them.  If they feel confident and capable, you will be able to pivot early and often.

SUSTAINMENT

The doctrine – Sustainment refers to the support arrangements necessary to implement strategies and operational plans.

“ You won’t find it difficult to prove that battles, campaigns, and even wars have been won or lost primarily because of logistics ”  – General Dwight. D. Eisenhower

The new executive with the grand ideas will often forget about the sustainability of a project or strategy.  Logistics and sustainability don’t just happen and can underpin an entire campaign.

Deliberate planning of time and resources for both offensive and defensive strategies should be a priority if you want an enduring impact.  The sustainability or logistical elements of are also those things that are easily targetable by a competitor who can bring more support to the game.

To be sustainable we must:

  1. Accurately plan the requirements of our missions
  2. Have a redundancy
  3. Identify the needs and requirements of our teams
  4. Be prepared to do more with less (should not be the ‘go to’ move)
  5. Be creative and use initiative
  6. Allocate resources to those areas with the greatest impact
  7. Prioritise resources (especially time and energy)
  8. Have a strategy and a plan

Sustainability of our initiatives is the life blood of enduring impact.  In change management, fatigue and obstruction are the result.  In projects, loss of capability occurs or a failure to meet scope.

Be clinical and decisive in your application of resources.

MAINTENANCE OF MORALE

The doctrine – Morale is an essential element of combat power. High morale engenders courage, energy, cohesion, endurance, steadfastness, determination and a bold, offensive spirit.

“ An army’s effectiveness depends on its size, training, experience, and morale, and morale is worth more than any of the other factors combined. ” – Napoleon Bonaparte

For those that know and understand the power of good morale, it is understood that this can be the power that turns the tide and make the unachievable…achievable.

Teams with high morale based on being highly trained, determined people with a shared value set, cohesion and trust will outperform even the best ‘qualified’ teams (on paper) with low morale. This is the secret force multiplier that changes the game.

Morale is built on:

  1. Trust
  2. Shared experience
  3. Open communication
  4. Success (short/long term) and performance
  5. Influential leadership (at all levels)
  6. A shared purpose and identity
  7. Commitment and conviction to succeed
  8. A genuine and authentic care for each other and the team
  9. Culture and a feeling of belonging
  10. A willingness to put the team above yourself

If you have worked in a team with high morale, you will understand the power and addictive nature of it. You feel indestructible and associate the impossible as the possible. However, it takes work and commitment to being a part of something bigger than yourself.

SUMMARY

The principles of war have been developed over the years as a set of factors and considerations for successful planning and implementation of strategy.

Depending on the environment, the adversary, experience, available time and any other amount of identifiable conditions will determine what weight is applied to each principle. We cannot achieve every principle perfectly every time. Sometimes we may have to sacrifice one to achieve another as a priority of circumstance. That means that careful consideration and analysis must be applied to each strategy and plan. The consideration itself will lead to a better plan than had it not been done at all.

Ultimately, having a set of principles that can help aid in planning and decision making helps you to create better outcomes.  The principles of war are one such set.

I recently saw an amazing post by Ian Mathews which prompted me to write this article.

Before becoming a Management Consultant, I was an Infantry Army Officer within the Australian Army.

My early years within the Army were founded in an education into military strategy and tactics. Many veterans would have experienced this for themselves. I can say with absolute confidence, that the lessons I learnt during this time have significantly shaped the way I perceive the world, most notably those interactions between organisations in highly competitive markets. This is not to say that organisations cannot co-exist, cooperate, or operate with an abundance mindset, but it is to recognise the fact that the actions of one organisation can directly impact the operational effectiveness of another. And, if we agree that the interactions between organisations, coupled with unique approaches to market ultimately decide our own team’s fate, then I feel it is something worth learning about.

During my first four years in the Army, a number of fundamental lessons were taught regarding the different types of warfare and strategic approaches. These lessons were further investigated throughout my career and were regularly cross-referenced against our operational efforts at the time.

History has shown that the differences in strategic approach inevitably decide the outcomes of almost every major military and international effort. My observations accrued from working inside the commercial and corporate world as a relative outsider have shown me that there is a reluctance to change strategy or consider different approaches often at the long-term detriment of the organisation. Furthermore, there is often a lack of willingness to learn new more simplistic methods of operation or approach. Conversely, those organisations that are willing to consider different perspectives and approaches often leave their competitors in their wake as they seemingly glide their way to success. The most damning situation of all is the vast number of organisations that aren’t operating with any strategy at all…

For the companies that are doing well, the reason they seem to glide so effortlessly towards their goals is because they are able to answer one fundamental question:

“How can we best use our precious resources in order to achieve the strategic outcomes we seek?”

With this said, I want to take the opportunity to introduce a number of different military methodologies and in turn demonstrate their utility in a corporate and commercial context.

ATTRITION WARFARE

“Attrition warfare is a military strategy consisting of belligerent attempts to win a war by wearing down the enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and material. The war will usually be won by the side with greater resources (Military-SF, 2007). The word attrition comes from the Latin root ‘atterere’, meaning to rub against, similar to the “grinding down” of the opponent’s forces in attrition warfare (Merriam Webster Dictionary).”

World War 1 and many sections of World War 2 were prime examples of attrition warfare. During these campaigns, an enemy would simply try and saturate an enemy force by bringing as much force to bear on them as possible until their systems and team’s collapse. Attrition warfare unequivocally favours the larger force and requires less imagination and agility in order to conduct. The resource cost is immense but if conducted in the right context (with the right force offset) can result in decisive victory, whereby an opposing force can be completely incapacitated in one location and in one event. There is a catch though, when a decisive victory is not achieved it results in prolonged wars that can extend for years with organisation’s ‘digging in’ and are incredibly difficult to dislodge.

In the commercial and corporate context attrition takes the form of monopolised businesses that are so massive and occupy so much of the market, there is no practical way for smaller organisations to try and compete with them by using direct or overt methods. Examples would include (but are not limited to):

  • Certain types of paid advertising
  • Sponsorship of events
  • Undertaking certain types of legal action
  • Poaching high-end staff by way of salary incentives

Attrition as a practical commercial strategy is almost solely limited to those incredibly large organisations with huge resources on hand. The very same organisations that advertise during the Super Bowl as an example.

MANOEUVRE WARFARE

Manoeuvre Warfare refers to a strategy aimed at unbalancing, unhinging, or outmanoeuvring an enemy. It was developed in response to emerging middle-sized conventional armies that were adamant in avoiding the huge losses associated with attrition warfare. It pays particular attention to identifying and defining the root purpose of a campaign and finding different ways to achieve the same aim. It is commonly referred to as targeting an enemy’s ‘Centre of Gravity’, which is loosely defined as that ‘thing’ that gives them the will or the ability to fight.

 

History has seen different militaries use Manoeuvre Warfare in different ways. Some armies have made use of:

  •  Physical Dislocation. Geared at removing the key assets or logistics that enable them to operate.
  •  Temporal Dislocation. Being faster to move than the enemy, particularly in achieving important terrain, milestones, or assets ahead of time.
  •  Moral Dislocation. Attacking the enemy’s will to win, or fight. This often includes a significant effort to get into the minds of the key decision-makers and shape their decisions.

Each of these different methods may be run simultaneously, and all of them have emphasis placed on surprise and making faster decisions than their competitors.

In the commercial and corporate context, we see manoeuvre characteristics in those organisations that are adept in prioritisation and channelling their efforts towards those outcomes that will have a disproportionate impact in support of their strategy. These organisations know their strengths and weaknesses and magnify their results exponentially by focusing their precious resources towards 2 or 3 outcomes. Manoeuvre in this sense allows organisations to start capturing market share from bigger competitors, and the market share they capture will be more tailored towards where they can have the highest impact.

GUERRILLA WARFARE

“Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which small groups of combatants, such as paramilitary personnel, armed civilians, or irregulars, use military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility, to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military (Wiki).”

The concept of Guerrilla style tactics was heavily publicised in the works of Sun Tzu who suggested that a much smaller force could win against a much larger competitor if it made absolute use of all its available resources and was able to move faster before they could respond properly.

 

Guerrilla warfare is based on an idea that smaller teams can create significant issues for their enemies providing they stay under the ‘detection threshold’. They almost always have significantly sparse resources and they rely heavily on the use of supporters, partners, and sympathisers. Their support networks are often incredibly loyal and ideologically linked with their fighting purpose.

In the corporate or commercial context, it means that smaller more agile organisations can achieve huge proportionate impacts providing they are willing to remain agile, dynamic and are able to incentivise people behind their cause. It also means that smaller boutique agencies can provide highly tailored services to organisations who are not keen on paying premium prices.

In many ways, this has been one of the founding success features of The Eighth Mile Consulting as we endeavour to support areas of the market that are not detected by the larger players in the industry. This in turn with our support from partner organisations has meant that we can seize opportunities quickly, provide valuable services and maintain our loyal support network (providing we continue to give value regularly). With this as context our organisational values and ethos make sense:

  • Service – Client tailored service delivery
  • Initiative – Find a need, fill a need
  • Integrity – We do what we promise
  • Accountability – Actively seek responsibility

CONCLUSION

I have not even scratched the surface on the intricacies associated with each of these strategies or the myriad of other strategies available, but I am sure we can agree that there is a utility in their application within a corporate and commercial context.

Now it might seem counter-intuitive to suggest that these strategies do not always have to be adopted in an overtly aggressive manner against others. The more astute readers will recognise that in the corporate and commercial context that these strategies often speak more to how we operate our own teams and strategies and are less geared towards destroying your competitors. I firmly believe in the concept of an abundance mindset, but I also acknowledge that the actions of one organisation can have far-reaching implications on our own. So, this being said I would suggest that understanding of these strategies:

  • Helps us prioritise our efforts towards the effect we are seeking to achieve.
  • Reduces our scope of operations towards those things that will provide the most significant impact and effect.
  • Encourages us to recognise our strengths and weaknesses, and therefore assist us in finding our relevance.
  • Promote early adoption of detecting those routes that will provide the paths of least resistance.
  • Incentivise us to think outside the box instead of always reinventing the wheel.

‘The enemy’ in the corporate or commercial context might not be your competitors, but it might be your environment and its ever-changing conditions.

If we look at it from this angle, we open the door to huge opportunities to reinvent our brands, define our team’s purpose, and provide an enduring legacy.

For those interested in developing unique business strategies please feel free to reach out and discuss with me or my team. 

For other articles and daily posts please follow David Neal and  Jonathan Clark.

 

One of the most distinctive memories from my early days within the Army was one of my respected Sergeants suddenly and abruptly correcting one of my trainee peers.

My mate had mentioned the unmentionable…

We were discussing what we should do if we encounter an enemy that was larger or more dangerous than we had originally predicted, and someone mentioned the word ‘retreat’. The response from my sergeant was immediate, ‘Australians DO NOT retreat!’. He went on to explain that we might withdraw in the interest of finding a terrain that was more conducive and favourable for us, but we do not retreat.

This is a statement that has stuck with me since that time. It speaks of the importance of always moving forward and regaining the initiative. Of remaining focused and deliberate in everything we do. It accepts that at times we might have to take a step back, but this should only be done to regain our footing in which to be able to take more steps moving forward. Over the years this phrase has spread its utility into most aspects of my life such as:

The Importance of Strategy

But here is the catch, it is predisposed on an assumption that we know what direction we should be heading. What point is there moving forward if it is entirely the wrong direction?

This is why having a strategy is so incredibly important. A strategy is a framework which sanity tests our decisions in short time, in order to allow us to stay focused on heading in the right cardinal direction. I have seen so many people get this wrong at their detriment.

We need to ask ourselves does our strategy (personal or professional):

  • Detail what we are seeking to achieve (Mission)?
  • Explain what it looks like when we achieve it (Vision)?
  • Include a sequence of how we might actually transit there (Goals, pillars, objectives, measures of success)?
  • Contain an acknowledgement of what we are willing to invest (or give up) in order to achieve it (resource allocations)?

It is an area that is too often paid lip service, but it is this defining feature that separates good teams from the absolute best.

A strategy allows a team to make quicker decisions, allocate precious resources towards those efforts with the highest impact and effect, as well ignore those shiny distractions which enticingly seduce people off of the centre line of their success.

Stopping the rot

‘Moving forward’ all the time is extremely difficult. It requires consistency, dedication and focus. Traits that can be increasingly hard to come by these days.

Our world is full of ever-increasing distractions and information that act as ‘white noise’ to our concentration. This white noise can incrementally increase for some people to the point where it becomes debilitating to their decision-making abilities. Some teams can become so confused by the pressures associated with these distractions that they reactively overcompensate by creating more and more high priorities. Leaders become withdrawn as the idea of moving forward appears less and less tenable.

For these teams, a ‘circuit breaker’ is required. Something that can stop the spiralling confusion and provide some level of clarity. This often requires a combination of the following:

  1. Strong leaders & managers with clear roles and responsibilities. Kotter once described the distinction between Leadership and Management, explaining that leaders coordinate ‘change’ and managers coordinate ‘complexity’. I particularly like this description as it is a simple reference for teams to make in order to refocus and distribute their team’s efforts. It is a common observation that the teams that are drowning have not clearly identified the distinction in roles and responsibilities between key roles. Everyone is trying to do everything, and no one is doing it well.
  2. Objectivity. Sometimes people are so saturated in their problems that they cannot see the overall context. They are literally living minute by minute and the idea of popping their head about the parapet in order to refocus their direction is unimaginable. This is where objectivity is so key. A third set of eyes, from someone who is not so absorbed in the problem, can be invaluable in asking the right questions and assisting in resetting the focus.
  3. Horsepower. Some teams are under-resourced and under-supported – plain and simple. These teams have often been heading in the right direction but just do not have the horsepower or workforce to get their project over the line. They have been doing ‘more with less’ for so long that they have reached culmination, and they just need reinforcement. Jonathan Clark once said to me, ‘sometimes you don’t need more people standing around the hole telling you how to dig better, you just need them to jump in and help dig’.
  4. Prioritisation. It is common to see teams that have a massive list of ‘what to do’ they have forgotten to detail what they ‘do not need to do’. The list of what is not required is often more important than what need to do. It stops people being lured down the enticing trip falls we eluded to earlier…

Some of the readers might resonate with some of these observations. If you have, I would love to hear your comments, case studies, and ideas.

The Eighth Mile Consulting team has founded a reputation for helping teams navigate through this confusion. There is an amazing feeling of elation as a team steps over the line of success when things months prior looked dire and unachievable.

For those slugging their way through problems at this very time, remember:

  • We don’t retreat, we withdraw to more favourable conditions
  • We ensure the actions we are doing are working to an overarching strategy or design.
  • We don’t give up, but we do adapt our approach

 

 

Sometime back I posted this on LinkedIn, on the topic of leadership.

 

In response to this post many responded with a popular John Wooden quote;

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

I would like to pull this apart in a little detail because I feel for some it might add some significant value in their personal and professional growth.

Now I openly admit that John Wooden is a smarter guy than me, and he has raised an important point about the importance of one’s character as a significant precursor to developing a good reputation. In essence, Wooden is saying that by consistently adhering to strong personal values one can focus on the things that create a good reputation. To this end, you will get no objection from me, the maths adds up.

But there is something missing… Objectivity.

Defining Leadership

Forbes defines leadership in the following way:

“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal. Notice key elements of this definition: Leadership stems from social influence, not authority or power. Leadership requires others, and that implies they don’t need to be “direct reports”.

I personally think that this is one of the most astute definitions of Leadership that I have read in a long time. It speaks of service to others, of influence, and a lack of reliance on formal structures and authorities.

Leadership effectiveness

So, if we agree that a Leader needs positive influence over others in order to be considered a leader then surely our reputation is an incredibly important indicator of how we are tracking. One could reasonably argue that our reputation is a social litmus test which gives us a reading on whether:

  1. Our communication is landing effectively with others
  2. People align with our values and intent
  3. Our teams want to work for, and with us
  4. We are adequately explaining the context behind our initiatives and proposed changes
  5. We are suitably prepared for progression into ever increasingly complex situations and problem-sets.

Objectivity

Now I will concede that people often develop reputations that are not aligned with their personal intent or values.

These people might have initially approached situations with a personal strategy that was misaligned with the organisation’s culture or strategy. On occasions, this has potentially resulted in people developing a poor reputation that is not accurate with their true character.

But looking at this objectively, I am sure we can all agree that their reputation, in this case, is still indicative of a problem, or breakdown, somewhere along the line. This problem might be due to:

  1. A breakdown in communication
  2. Joining an organisation that had a misalignment of values in the first place
  3. Making decisions that were not understood by others
  4. A lack of personal accountability

The specifics of our reputations might be factually incorrect, but the indication that something is wrong is 100% accurate. It is our job to find out what it is and fix it.

Influence

Personally, I believe I am fortunate to have worked alongside some of the most amazing and influential leaders in the world. Every one of these leaders held amazingly positive reputations – even when they had made decisions that others had professionally disagreed with, they were still respected.

People respected these leaders due to their consistency and authenticity, enough so, that others would give them benefit of the doubt and remain loyal and avid followers in pursuit of supporting a higher team purpose. These leaders were an incredibly valuable resource, particularly in environments characterised by uncertainty, confusion, and complexity. They were often dragged from one problem to the next, leaving a positive legacy wherever they went.

With this as context, this is what is meant by ‘your reputation is your real business card’.

It is also important to note that these leaders were very well represented in forums where they could not represent themselves. Simply put, they had people covering their backs and supporting their messaging, even when they were not being watched. This is the power of positive reputation and influence! People want to help your teams, even when you are not watching or listening to them.

Legacy

One of my personal life goals is to leave a positive legacy and be remembered for being a ‘good person’. I will measure this on the day of my death bed, with the people that surround and support me, and the stories of positive (or negative) legacy I leave behind.

My reputation is critical for me to measure my success as a leader in my family, my friends, and my teams. I cannot conveniently discount its importance or its messaging throughout the course of my life.

Closing

I personally believe that the best leaders are those that are committed in the pursuit of truth.

The truth about themselves, their performance, their teams, and their impacts.

As leaders, we cannot be so quick to discount the importance of one’s reputation. It is the universe’s way of telling you that something is right or wrong in the way you are delivering your messages and interacting with others. This is valuable information for those that are genuinely wishing to improve the way they lead others.

 

Over the years I have heard consultants get a pretty bad rap. When I worked on the other side of the fence, I heard consultants described on occasions as ‘vultures’, ‘sharks’, ‘idiots’, ‘morons’ and everything in between. Ironically, the organisations which I worked in at the time had felt the need to bring them in order to get momentum and horsepower in areas where they were significantly lacking. On other occasions consultants were brought in to provide objectivity and impartiality.

I have only been a consultant for a relatively short time, and I chose the profession as it seemed like a logical choice which would enable me to support different organisations in achieving their goals, as well as entwine myself in varying and complex problems.

When we launched The Eighth Mile Consulting, we created a mantra and ethos of ‘good people, helping good people’ and made sure it translated in our service towards ‘positive projects and people only’. At the time we felt the need to do this in order to demonstrate some level of separation from what some people see as a ‘dirty’ word.

Since our launch we have kept true to our mantra and have supported only positive projects taking the form of social support projects, scholarship programs, Veteran services projects, leadership & professional development projects, medical projects, and more. It has been a roller coaster to say the least but here are some of the observations from a ‘bloody consultant’.

I hope that in providing some objective observations it might allow people to learn from some of the consistent friction areas experienced by many organisations

Be very wary of a ‘Yes’ culture

Just because your staff are telling you everything is alright; it doesn’t mean it’s true. In fact, no organisation I have ever worked in is without its faults. It is impossible to have a perfectly oiled system and operation. If you cannot find areas for improvement, then you aren’t looking hard enough, or your staff aren’t raising it to your attention.

If your staff are always telling you what you want to hear, and not what you need to hear then there might be some significant issues with trust or rapport in the team. Either:

  • They don’t trust the information will be kept confidential and used for its intended purpose
  • They think you will react adversely against them or another member of the team
  • They believe its easier to just go along with whatever their manager or supervisor says than to raise issues.

There is a term I have picked up on my journey called ‘malicious compliance’ and it refers to a tendency for jaded staff to literally follow directions from their supervisors despite knowing that it will have significantly negative effects. When this occurs disastrous things happen, and what is worse is the leaders are left holding the ashes, not knowing how they could have stopped it. Rapport and respect are the weapons against evils like malicious compliance.

Many executives have called us in because they don’t feel they have a good understanding about an issue in the organisation. In this way consultants are gather in order to ground truth what is actually happening and provide truthful feedback for the executive or manager. This can be hard to deliver sometimes, as it takes a very courageous and well intentioned leader to open their doors to critique and objectivity. It also takes an equally courageous consultant to relay information that could be poorly received by their employer.

I have a lot of respect for those leaders and consultants willing to engage in open and honest conversation. It takes integrity, self awareness and professionalism to pull it off.

Plan to communicate

So many issues in the world are caused by miscommunication. In one of my previous articles I wrote that misinformation is worse than no information at all. At least with no information you can actively source data, but with misinformation it will corrupt your decision making and cause nightmares in your deliveries.

Many of the issues associated with the teams we work with are based around a distortion of information from the top to the bottom and back up again. There was a great scene in a Simpsons episode where Bart starts a rumor about another individual and by the time it gets to the end of a long line of people it has evolved into ‘purple monkey dishwasher’. Unfortunately this demonstration of information distortion is uncomfortably close to the truth for many organisations.

Here are some rules which I hope will serve some people in their attempt to tighten their communication:

  • More touch points or crossover points always equates to more errors. Ask yourself how many gates are required in order to get this information where it needs to go. Can we cut it down, or streamline it?
  • Translating information between systems and people dramatically increases the chances of errors.
  • Ensure your communication clearly answers an organisational question or need. Don’t create or collect content for the sake of it.
  • Too much information and no one will read it.
  • Less is more. Brevity is key in communication and stands out like a sore thumb in todays saturated environment.

Leadership will make or break teams

No brainer right? Wrong. I have been very fortunate to be mentored throughout my whole life by very capable and influential leaders. What I thought was intuitive and obvious is not. Leadership is learnt by seeing others and adapting it into a methodology that suits the individual and the circumstance.

People need to be trained and mentored if they are to become better at leading and managing teams. Worse yet, some people will have to be trained to drop bad or toxic habits. Unfortunately for people like myself, we cannot change someone else’s mind. All we can do is provide additional information and context that might lead them to another conclusion.

If your organisation genuinely wants leaders it needs to invest in them. This means (as a minimum):

  • Time
  • Resources
  • Executive and senior management buy-in
  • A strategy that they can understand and align to

One key mistake I see routinely is that people are promoted, or worse yet forced into leadership roles due to their tenure in an organisation. This is dangerous, particularly in technical or specialist streams. Someone might not want to be in a leadership role, or might not be suited to it. This opens a can of worms that can be very difficult to put a lid back on.

Luckily for me and my team, we love helping other organisations with leadership and management training. There is nothing more satisfying than supporting someone else to a point where they can support others.

Strategy reinforced by systems and processes allows you to scale

There is significant pressure placed on organisations who have scaled too quickly and are now forced into becoming reactionary and responsive to their operating environments. Their staff regularly feel like they are behind the eight ball (no pun intended). Over time this develops animosity against their teams and their profession. Scaling properly takes planning and preparation if it is to be done right. It also takes a concerted and deliberate effort in order to decentralise certain roles and responsibilities to other staff or capabilities. One person cannot do it all effectively.

Scaling a business should be leveraged off a unified strategy which can act as a compass during the confusion. When things get crazy and the operating environment becomes more complex, our staff need an agreed direction to head, as well as sanity check their decisions.

Companies that ignore the importance of a well communicated strategy do so at their own peril. Consultants are often well positioned to assist companies in developing a strategy as they are able to cross reference against market trends and other companies.

Resilience is not a buzzword 

Resilience is a serious issue in today’s society. With ever increasing psychological issues influencing our workspaces, it is becoming more relevant than ever to have teams that are robust, focused and unified. Without going in to my personal beliefs as to why this is occurring, I think we can all agree that a resilient team is often a key determiner in improving our chances of success.

Companies that invest in formal resilience training perform better overall, as they see benefits in their staff retention, leadership and their ability to respond to change. Companies that don’t take this seriously experience highly transient workforces, poor reputation, and numerous incomplete projects.

Change takes courage and commitment

The world is going to change whether you like it or not. The difference is whether you are leading it, or being led by it. Companies considering large-scale changes (structural, technological, product delivery, etc) need to seriously assess the implications on their staff, clients, profile and operational delivery. Being quick moving and agile is great providing you have a framework and team built to support such actions. Move too quickly and you will leave a wake of destruction in your path.

Good change management relies on strategic alignment, development of a ‘need’ (combined with an agreed sense of urgency), clear methods of communication, and responsible/accountable people who play a strong stakeholder game. Too light in some of these areas and the implications can be terrible.

Don’t wait until it’s too late

Many organisations wait until the damage is done in order to bring in consultants to support their work. This can be a tough gig for consultants as they are asked to achieve seemingly impossible results and are then chastised when it is not delivered. I believe this reflects poorly on the consultant in many instances, as they have not fully expectation managed their client and have then subsequently under-delivered. But in any case, we can probably agree that if issues are addressed early than we have an infinitely better chance of fixing it before it becomes a true detriment.

The key capability a consultant brings is objectivity, providing they are courageous enough to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear – refer to my first point about ‘yes’ cultures. Having someone approach the problem without the same biases and internal politics can be the difference between bad, good and expert.

Conclusion

I love being a consultant! I love being held accountable for my work, and my team’s work. Our consultants at The Eighth Mile Consulting are focused, professional and experienced and it makes my job of managing the brand a breeze.

There is no more satisfying feeling that supporting a positive project or initiative and seeing it through to delivery. Our measure of success is when we get called in to the next positive project, based on the success of the previous one.

I hope these observations serve others well. Remember, it is just one man’s opinions…

If you are ever think you might need an objective and friendly hand on something. Give us a call. We are always here to help.

Safe travels.

Dave

Have you ever completed an obstacle course… On your own?

Picture this, you have just scraped your knees crawling through a tunnel, mud all over you and heavy with water. Your feet are blistered, sweat is stinging your eyes. You hear your heartbeat in your ears and the sharp panting of breath. You are fatigued and in survival mode. You look up to see the dreaded wall. It is ten feet high.

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Too high to jump up, no ropes and it is stopping you from reaching your goal. If only you had a team… Even one other person and you could complete the course.

In crisis, much like obstacle courses there are those who choose to go it alone and self-protect, preferring to minimise personal risk at the expense of the team. They are 50/50 on success and failure. Then there are those that double down on teams and increase their odds of succeeding by sharing a common vision and providing different perspectives to problem solving and communicating effectively.

Share the load

In an average or sub performing team, people are happy to watch other people do the lion’s share of the work, the late hours and own all the pressure and responsibility. They would rather see themselves succeed and the team fail so that they appear strong. In a High Performing Team (HPT), people focus on the overall success and reputation of the team. They put team success before self and proactively search for work. They understand that sharing the fatigue and the burn so that everyone can perform means that nobody gets left behind. While they share the work and their fatigue so that the team achieves more, they all actively seek to be involved in planning at all levels.

Shared planning and supportive decision making

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There is a place for planning in isolation and it usually means there are substantial time pressures or trust issues within the team. A leader who doesn’t trust the team will not value their input into decisions. If they have been burned before, they will want to remove that possibility. In a HPT, everyone’s opinion is valued. It is understood that a wide range of perspectives on an issue may yield a better solution. The team also knows that when a decision is made, the time for shared planning is over and its implementation time!! 

They align and get it done. They support the decision because they understand the importance of achieving the goal and they were involved in the planning. They leverage and reinforce their relationships and maintain open, supportive communication.

Build relationships and a team language

Ever wondered how HPTs can work with minimal communication, or when they do you can’t really understand them. It is like watching a group of soldiers use hand signals and you are standing there, having no idea. They have refined the way they speak to include their history, shared experiences, values and connection to remove superfluous chat. They still have fun and they still care for each other. However, when work needs to get done, they can streamline their language. They know they work from a position of care and support. The HPT will work to strengthen relationships and networks in the good times so that they can lean on each other in crisis. They are calm and deliberate in their actions and communication because they understand that the team’s reputation is more important than their own. These relationships and shared language help understand and communicate the context while implementing the vision.

Clear context and vision

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A team that works to understand and communicate the context in which they operate will be able to make decisions in the absence of leadership, direction and under extreme pressure. They share a common vision for success and work within the boundaries of the defined context. Pushing authorities and decision making as far down as you can, will allow a team to create momentum and take advantage of opportunities. This also mitigates risks associated with slow decision making. The key part of owning the context and implementing the vision is a shared trust in every member of the team.

Trust

HPTs trust each other to a point where they receive feedback without feeling hurt. They understand that the feedback is coming from a place of love and respect to build the overall team and is not a personal attack. They trust that when someone says they will do something, they do it. The behaviour and trust are forged through shared experience and values. They also understand that they will be represented well even when they aren’t in the room.

The steps

The theory of teams is built on a model originally published by Dr Bruce Tuckman. It encapsulates Forming, Storming. Norming. Performing. Adjourning. These steps are normal, linear (step through to build a team) and cyclical in nature (it can relapse back steps at any time) and cannot be skipped. Friction in the storming phase is normal, temporary and MUST happen. A HPT will minimise their time in both storming and norming to accelerate reaching performing. They will also have limited relapses to storming by:

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1. Sharing the workload

2. Conducting shared planning and supportive decision making

3. Building relationships and a team language

4. Having a clear context and shared vision

5. Building trust

6. Acknowledging the steps.

The point 

By understanding what a successful team looks like, how it operates and some of their characteristics, we can work to constantly improve our own teams. There is no secret that, teams are always evolving and constantly changing. Understanding the context allows you to have clarity and accommodate for the disruptions. The steps above are not exhaustive and based on my experiences and opinions. I will say this though, once you have been part of a HPT, you will understand the addictive nature of it. You want it back all the time and will fight to have it again. 

So, if I return to the scenario above. Imagine you are back in that obstacle course and you are looking up at the wall. You are fatigued, tired, wet and sore. Suddenly someone says, “you got this!” A hand reaches down from the top to grab yours and at the same time you are lifted to grasp it. Doesn’t it make a difference?

We hear a lot of positive stories, and the ‘how to’ of successful leadership scenarios. This is not one of those. Let me tell you about the time when I got it completely wrong.

I thought as a junior officer I knew the intricacies of leadership and command. I didn’t know at the time how much I had left to learn, and still do to this day. Specific to this incident, was my lack of E.Q. understanding of stressor impacts, and conflict resolution skills.

Do not mistake my lack of experience for a lack of willingness to do good. I cared about my team, their families, their prospects and life goals but, the in-depth knowledge of how they all interconnected to either support or undermine the team was limited. Retrospectively, I believe that in this instance, I subscribed too heavily towards a ‘mission’ first mentality, at the expense of the team.

The Scenario.

For the purposes of this article let’s call the other person Bill.

On return from an Army exercise, a piece of very important equipment couldn’t be located. It was Bill’s responsibility. He was in a position of leadership at the time, and not being able to find it meant that my team was still working, when the rest of the unit had been home for hours. A terrible outcome for the soldiers and their families desperately craving to be reunited.

In this instance, I was unaware of the life stressors occurring in Bill’s life. Bill was always so cool, calm and collected at every turn that, it never occurred to me that his life was literally burning down around him. I had known Bill prior to us working together and he had a reputation for being a strong, fit, competent and professional man. However, I was focused on preparing the team for operations, fixing the overt issues and working on ensuring the team was at a ‘high performance’ level. I was thinking about the group as a whole and did not make the crucial connection of the group being made up of individuals.

Once the item was found, in his kit, I was livid. I counselled the person in a fashion completely contrary to my character. There are no excuses. Stress from a pending deployment, embarrassment from the counselling I received from my commander or even the disappointment that my team had missed out on even more time with their families, were no reasons for my behaviour. 

My counselling of Bill was aggressively vocal. It was completely uncharacteristic of me and shameful. An interaction that wasn’t lost on my team. Bill also did not take it very well and it had a lasting impact on him. It took time to gain the trust of my team back.

Lesson 1 – Provide clear vision and intent, the mission will happen.

If I had looked after Bill, provided a clear vision and intent, I would have enabled him to a way to tell me what was going on outside of work. Then, I could have worked with him to fix it and ultimately, set the conditions for him to succeed. Instead, I undermined his faith in me as a leader.

Lesson 2 – Stick to your values.

My response at the time did not align with my values (accountability and service). Where was my service to this man and how was I being accountable to him? It was my job to protect him and ensure that his faith in me as a leader was paramount.

Lesson 3 – Find space between the stimulus and the reaction. (Bram Connelly in his Warrior U podcast, Episode 01: KC Finnegan – USSF Major, he explains this well.

When the incident occurred, I should have taken the time to analyse and decipher the variables and considerations. The equipment had been found, that was a positive. While the team was the only one left, they were together and all unified in their search. This was uncharacteristic of him, what is wrong? If I had taken the time to absorb all the variables, I may have found out something that could have prevented a greater impact on Bill later.

Lesson 4 – Make the best decision you can with the information you have.

At the time, with the information I had, this was not the best decision I could make. I knew this man extremely well and I knew it was out of character. Instead of confirming information, I sought to transfer anxiety from my Commander to him.

Lesson 5 – Know your people, they are not their behaviours.

I didn’t find out until later that the interaction had a long term and devastating impact on him. It impacted his Afghan deployment and contributed to some long-term issues. To his credit, he reached out. He explained how the incident had impacted him and it was something that he had never really let go. I had no idea that the interaction had hurt him. It hadn’t registered to me as something that would have. 

Lesson 6 – If you are wrong in your approach, own it, TRY TO MAKE IT RIGHT!!

After he told me the impact the event had on him, I was gutted. So, I did the only thing I could and owned my mistake. There was an explanation of my thought process at the time and how with the benefit of hindsight and experience, I would have done things differently. Now, I am doing what I can to make it right. I keep in contact with him regularly and it is a constant reminder to stick to my values.

Dave and I have unpacked this a hundred times so that we can learn from it and never make these mistakes again. So, feel free to take a free one from my error. We use our experiences and lessons like these at The Eighth Mile Consulting because it keeps us accountable to ourselves and the good people we work with.

Dont be a jerk and never underestimate the impact your actions have on other people.