The November issue of Harvard Business Review featured as its spotlight section "Leadership Lessons from the Military."
My favorite article was Which of These People is Your Future CEO? by Boris Groysberg, Andrew Hill and Toby Johnson (the first two authors are affiliated with Harvard Business School and the third author, a former US Army captain, is an executive at PepsiCo.) The article discusses "the different ways military experience prepares managers for leadership." Its core idea, summarized here, is that "veterans from different branches demonstrate different strengths". For instance, Navy and Air Force personnel "are expected to follow standard procedures without any deviation" because of the expensive equipment involved; in the corporate world, they perform best "in highly regulated industries" and "in firms with a process approach to innovation". In contrast, Army and Marine Corps personnel have to be very flexible in their military operations and end up being most successful in small companies.
My other favorite article (it was a tie) was the interview with the national incident commander for the Gulf oil spill, Admiral Thad Allen (US Coast Guard, Ret): You Have to Lead From Everywhere. I was very impressed by his insights into the response efforts after Hurricane Katrina, which he also led. In particular, he states that the problem with the response at first was that people followed the standard hurricane response model, under which "resources are provided to a local government, which applies them and runs the response." Adm Allen explains that, when the levees were breached, there suddenly was "no functional local government that could take the resources and apply them to the mission." The situation only improved when people began to apply the protocol for a resonse to a weapon of mass effect.
Two other valuable reads in the same Spotlight section on the military are:
1. Four Lessons in Adaptive Leadership by Michael Useem from UPenn's Wharton School. The article describes the interactions students in the MBA and executive MBA programs at Wharton have with the military (for instance, military officers come regularly to the campus to discuss their experiences with students), and shares the following lessons:
- "Creating a personal link is crucial to leading people through challenging times."
- "Making good and timely calls is the crux of responsibility in a leadership position."
- "Establish a common purpose, buttress those who will help you achieve it and eschew personal gain."
- "Make the objectives clear but avoid micromanaging those who will execute them."
2. Extreme Negotiations: What US soldiers in Afghanistan have learned about the art of managing high-risk, high-stakes situations, by Jeff Weiss, Aram Donigian and Jonathan Hughes. (Solicit others' points of view, build trust, propose multiple solutions and invite your counterparts to critique them, to name a few. A lot of suggestions are common-sense for the business world but the examples drawn from the real-life experience of US soldiers help the article rise above corporate truisms. The first two authors are affiliated with West Point and the third author is a partner at Vantage Partners.)
I also recommend Finding Competitive Advantage in Adversity, by Bhaskar Chakravorti (a partner at McKinsey), which lists interesting business opportunities in difficult environments with plenty of examples, How to Conquer New Markets with Old Skills (subtitle: "The surprising global success of Spanish companies proves the value of good old-fashioned networking") by Mauro Guillen of the Wharton School and Esteban Garcia-Canal of the University of Oviedo in Spain, about companies such as Telefonica and Santander, and the Idea Watch on Capitalizing on the Underdog Effect.