History

Great Leaders Build Great Teams

Another update from the Jungle….

pic4Building a successful team is never easy. Managers and business owners who hire “yes-men” tend to ride their egos and a false consensus to financial ruin. On the other hand, having too many different opinions can paralyze decision-making and cause companies to fall apart. What should an intelligent manager or business owner do?

Take a lesson from one of the best team managers of all time. George Washington formed a Cabinet that included Alexander Hamilton as Treasury Secretary and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. These two men didn’t like each other personally, and they had opposing political philosophies.

pic3Hamilton wanted a strong central government and an industrialized economy. Jefferson wanted a weak central government with most power residing with the states and an economy based on agriculture. These conflicting visions of America are as strong today as they were over 200 years ago.

pic1Washington kept his feuding Cabinet members functioning as a team, and he did it while building the political structure of the U.S. from scratch. The traditions we esteem today were created by Washington to work around the political battles in his Cabinet and with the leaders of Congress.

Washington made it all work by the force of his personality. He was calm and assured under pressure. He was usually able to contain his anger and find a compromise to disputes. He gathered data carefully and listened to all sides of an argument. Then he made his own decisions.

pic2Building a functioning team means having calm, assertive leadership that listens to all viewpoints before making a final decision. Washington was one of the best at it.

For more information about Washington, you can choose from hundreds of books about him. A recent favorite of mine that is informative and well-written is Washington, A Life, by Ron Chernow (2010). Chernow also wrote a biography of Alexander Hamilton and served as a technical advisor to Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton: An American Musical.

pic6If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Avoiding the Bastille Moment

Another update from the Jungle…
image008Yesterday, July 14th, was the 226th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress in Paris, France. Americans should take a special interest in Bastille Day because there is a direct causal connection, as a lawyer would say, between the founding of the U.S. and that event.

France is our oldest ally, supporting us in the American Revolution. It wasn’t that the French liked us; it was more about their government policy to oppose the British. Unfortunately, France went bankrupt since running a war at sea and on land with Atlantic Ocean-wide supply lines is not cheap. So in 1789, Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates General, a legislature consisting of clergymen, aristocrats, and wealthy property owners. Louis wanted them to agree to new taxes.

The Estates General hadn’t met for over 100 years and during that time economic power had tilted in favor of the middle class but this change was not reflected in the political process. The middle class demanded constitutional changes that would give them political power to match their economic importance. By late June the king had caved in to their demands.

The legislature celebrated by changing its name to the National Assembly (still the name of the French legislature). Then they began plotting more radical changes. The king, aristocrats and the church fought to preserve their privileges. By early July, rumors were circulating that the military planned a coup to counteract the changes sought by the National Assembly.

On July 14th, a Parisian mob attacked the Bastille fortress trying to steal the gunpowder and weapons stored there so that they could defend themselves against the coup.  The storming of the Bastille is now considered the start of the French Revolution. It represents to the French what our July 4th means to us.

So what can business owners learn from Bastille Day?  Tin-eared responses to demands for change are bad for business. Employees who feel mistreated or unappreciated will leave for other employment opportunities. Customers who are treated poorly will trash the company on social media and buy from competitors.  To avoid a Bastille moment, business leaders need to stay attuned to changes in their workplace and their market.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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Non-Conformists Get Results.

Another update from the Jungle…

150px-Terry_de_la_Mesa_AllenHave you ever worked for someone who was more interested in following the rules than in getting results? In these organizations initiative is not rewarded and non-conformists are quickly shown the door.

In World War II, one of our more interesting generals found his career side-lined by superiors who disliked his rule-breaking attitude. General Terry Allen was an Army brat and apparently never considered another career path for himself. His non-conformist attitude made him an oddity in a giant bureaucracy like the Army. He was a mediocre student at West Point and flunked out of the program. He later earned a college degree and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1912.

His Army career would have been completely forgettable without war. In World War I, Terry Allen proved he was personally brave and able to inspire his troops. He got results. That earned him a place in the downsized Army between the two world wars even though he offended many with his breaches of military etiquette. For example, he was careless about his appearance and allowed everyone, including subordinates, to call him by his first name.

In WWII, General Allen commanded the U.S. 1st Infantry Division (the “Big Red One”) in the invasions of North Africa and Sicily. His troops fought well but some spit and polish officers claimed he had ruined the Big Red One by failing to enforce discipline. These officers eventually engineered his removal from the Big Red One by blaming General Allen for the bad results in a battle he did not plan. Their criticism apparently stung because General Allen became a stickler for discipline after he was transferred from command of the 1st Division. His career was never as brilliant after he became a conformist.

General Allen knew that smooth operations require following rules but that the rules should never be blindly followed if that stands in the way of the results. The same principle is important in private companies when they design their human resources policies. Every company needs HR rules so that employees know what is expected of them. However, the rules should be the minimum necessary to ensure the company runs smoothly and should never become a burden on management or employees.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented. To learn more about General Terry Allen, see Terrible Terry Allen, by Gerald Astor (2003).

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Plan First, Improvise Later.

Another update from the Jungle…

unnamedNo plan survives first contact with the enemy. This military maxim is credited to many famous military leaders, including Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Rommel was famous for improvising on the battlefield. But he always started with a plan.

In World War II, Rommel led the Africa Corps in what is now eastern Libya as it attacked British forces in Egypt. In every battle, Rommel’s forces were outnumbered by the British troops they were attacking. That meant that Rommel needed to make real-time changes to his plan of attack as the battle developed in order to exploit weaknesses in the enemy line. He was remarkably successful at it.

Rommel’s true improvisational skills were demonstrated at the battle of El Alamein. Rommel designed a plan to attack the British forces in Egypt. The ultimate goal of the plan was to defeat the British and advance to the oil fields in Iraq. Before Rommel’s plan could begin, the British forces attacked with overwhelming numbers and equipment. (The British had broken German military codes using Enigma and knew of Rommel’s plan.)

The Africa Corps was overwhelmed and fell back toward Libya. Rommel continuously fashioned makeshift defensive lines to save his troops from destruction. Ultimately, he was successful but it was the beginning of the end for the Axis powers in North Africa.

So what does all this mean for your company? Every company faces crises and no matter how well your company plans, an actual crisis will always present new problems that were not covered in the crisis plan. The key is to have a plan and then to improvise real-time solutions from that plan as the crisis develops.

Think back to the Great Flood of 2010. Thousands of businesses were literally under water and they lacked a plan (a disaster plan and a business continuity plan) to handle the crisis. Meanwhile, businesses with a disaster plan and a business continuity plan could improvise a solution in real-time as the crisis developed. Companies with a plan were back in business while their unprepared competitors were still floundering.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented. To learn more about Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in his own words look at The Rommel Papers, edited by Sir Basil Liddell-Hart (WWII exploits) and Infantry Attacks (WWI exploits). Among his many biographies is Knight’s Cross, by David Fraser (1993).

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