Here is a very interesting interview on the topic of culture and accountability. HBR spoke to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Tom Ricks and author of The Generals. The interview is named, “How a Culture of Accountability Can Deteriorate.” Again, Ricks demonstrates the universality of strategic leadership whether in the private sector or in the military.
Our age of specialization has in some respects overshadowed the value of the generalist. This shouldn’t be a surprise considering the sophisticated, technological age we live in. For instance, to be a “business strategist” today requires a qualifier, signifying an expertise in a particular field, such as marketing, sales, or IT. What about the general business strategist? Isn’t this the professional who integrates all of the input of the experts? And by what technical right can this person legitimately tell an expert what to do or what not to do? David Ben-Gurion, the prime minister of Israel, who is the fourth statesmen presented in Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesman, and Leadership in Wartime, provides an interesting and helpful perspective.
Even to this day Winston Churchill is a controversial figure in politics. Despite their debates, many of his critics admit that his wartime leadership was a crucial factor in ensuring Allied Victory in 1945. Eliot considers Churchill as the “greatest war statesman of the century.” What stands out about Churchill’s performance as key player of the Allies is Churchill’s inquisitive nature. The chapter title, “Churchill asks a Question” says it best: he questioned everything and everyone, no matter there position. When the Prime Minister wanted answers to questions, he found them one way or another.
Probably one of the greatest traps for strategic leaders is to enter the world of tactics and get stuck in there, “buried in the weeds” of everyday operations. No doubt tactics are important, but when the daily crisis dominates your everyday thinking and agenda you are not driving strategy and actualizing your ROI. A great example of a strategic leader who learned to fluctate between tactics and strategy was Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France during the latter years of World War I. It was his supervision of his army that is a great lesson for any business leaders today.
Clemenceau is the second statesman in Supreme Command. The French wartime Prime Minister earned the nickname, “The Tiger”, for his force of character, unwavering focus and optimism, and for his willingness to fight for what he wanted. The Tiger had an enormous challenge as he came to power during a dire time during World War I, when victory was distant and world powers were almost bled white.
I think it is fair to say that delegation as an effective business tool is a sacrosanct notion. And why should it not be? As a strategic leader you must delegate responsibilities, at least for the very fact that the amount of goals and objectives to be achieved, to include the multitude of derivative tasks and sub-tasks, is too much for one person to handle by themselves. In this respect alone delegation makes practical sense.
From my research, the book is considered a must-read for senior leaders looking to better themselve in balancing strategic leadership with strategic management. It is about civil-military balance in wartime. Should politicians (the leaders responsible for victory) stay out of the military strategy process, leaving it to their military experts? or should they interfere by probing, questioning, and possibly ignoring expert advice? Cohen examines four world politicians who found the right balance: Lincoln during the Civil War, Clemenceau during WWI, Churchill during WW2, and Ben-Gurion during the Israeli struggle throughout the 1940s. Each leader is different by culture, knowledge, and experience; yet, each share remarkable similarities. Some are:
George Marshall was not known to be the warmest man, especially considering he fired 600 officers during the Second World War. Yet, Orson Welles’ reminiscence of Marshall supports the general’s unwavering conviction that his organization, the US Army, gravitated around the soldier, first and foremost. This is a great story for anyone interested in how to conduct themselves as a strategic leader. Start the video at 5:50.
The message is simple, clear-cut: bureaucracies are slow to innovate as well as reluctant to reevaluate themselves. Mistakes in strategy development and decision-making are inevitable. Here are a few of my observations from the reading: