History tells us of the mighty Soviet military invading Afghanistan; they are met by a rugged terrain on the order of the surface of the Moon and a collection of grizzled fighters that are relentless in their efforts to hold off and defeat the invading horde. With the help of tens of millions of dollars of U.S. military aide funneled through the CIA and the Soviets stubbornness or inability to adapt to a different fighting paradigm, the seemingly rag tag Mujahedeen tribes send them packing.
Flash forward to the War on Terror and the U.S. Military launching a traditional military campaign of “shock and awe” based on expending massive amounts of military ordinance in an effort to overwhelm the enemy. It doesn’t take the leadership on the ground in both Afghanistan and Iraq to figure out, that there has been a shift in strategy and they need to respond accordingly with a new set of rules for engaging the enemy.
One of those leaders that came to the battlefield realization was General Stanley McChrystal. Now retired from the military and engaged in the battle ground of business, McChrystal and his co-authors, a pair of fellow special forces combatants and a student from the General’s leadership class at Yale, set out to see how the lessons learned in that battlefield shift could be applied in the business world. The result is Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.
McChrystal and company make the case that even with the seeming fire hose of data and information available to leadership types; leaders can’t be “all knowing and all seeing”. It is that loosening of the stranglehold grip on control that will speed the transition from “puppet master” to the “crafter of culture”.
McChrystal’s thoughts on the value of a leaders words vs. their actions brought to mind one of the best leaders I ever worked for who impressed upon me the first week he was in the job of CEO that he didn’t “know everything about what you do…that’s why I pay you to do the job and make the decisions.” He went on to say “I want to move the decision making out of here (as he hooked a thumb toward his office) and over to you.” That was a major shift in thinking from his micromanaging predecessor and it took all of 10 seconds for me to embrace the change and take charge of my role within the organization.
One of the major steps that worked for McChrystal in battle and will transition well to business is “normalizing sharing”. Again it raises the importance of a leaders talk vs. their action; talk of transparency is meaningless without the sharing of detailed information. Technology offered the military a wide range of tools to implement the sharing strategy and the same holds true for business. This information sharing will help leaders avoid a top down management style, defeat business silos and bring people into the process.