Learning the Wrong Lessons from War

How to draw the right lessons from war, and history, to make the right decisions now. 

Leaders generally know and follow more recent examples than distant ones. This makes sense since the technology and social mores of the near past resemble the present more than those of the distant past. However, taking the wrong lessons from the past can lead current decision makers astray. Further, the recent past is not always the best guide to present action.

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The Long Shadow – How to Follow a Superstar

We may pity the person following someone who is widely acclaimed in their field. But they are doing really important work, and we should thank them. 

A Tennessee democrat who was firmly committed to the Union, Andrew Johnson had a distinguished career as congressman, senator and governor of his state. Hoping to send a message of reconciliation to the rebellious South, Lincoln chose Johnson as his vice president in 1864. Johnson’s debut on the national stage went poorly, with a rambling and perhaps drunken speech when he assumed office in March 1865. Lincoln followed with a masterpiece, his Second Inaugural Address. Little did anyone know that in only six weeks, at one of the most crucial times in American history, the rambler would be President.

A Missouri democrat who came to national prominence investigating fraud, waste and abuse on the Committee of Military Affairs during the Second World War, Harry Truman had earlier served as farmer, haberdasher, judge and US senator. With President Franklin Roosevelt in declining health and many expecting that he would not survive his fourth term, the party looked for a vice president who could succeed in the top job. Eighty-two days after the Inauguration, Roosevelt lay dead, and Truman took the top job.

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How Much Do Leaders Care?

It is true that no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care

  • A husband and father earns the right to lead his family by caring for his wife and children.
  • A minister earns the right to preach by caring for his congregation.
  • A physician earns the right to teach medical students and residents by caring for them, and the right to influence and even direct his patients by caring for them.
  • A commander earns the right to command by caring for his soldiers.
  • A manager earns the right to lead by caring for his employees.
  • A teacher earns the right to teach by caring for his students.
  • A king earns the right to rule and a prime minister or president earns the right to preside (exercise authority or control) by caring for his citizens.

Caring is not merely feeling benevolent emotions.  Actually, since emotions are merely a side effect of thoughts and actions, benevolent emotions are an outgrowth, not a cause or a definition, or caring.  Leaders who care do the following for those who follow them:

  • Learn about them
  • Pray for them
  • Encourage them
  • Talk to them
  • Listen to them
  • Rebuke them
  • Mentor them
  • Teach them
  • Be accountable to them

Integrity and Leadership

How important is integrity, really, in leadership? Why? How can we find leaders with integrity? We must begin with integrity in ourselves. 

In the fall of 1996, several allegations of sexual misconduct between Army leaders and their subordinates became public.  The ensuing investigations found many cases in which the allegations were true, and trust began to erode within and towards the US Army.  As a result, the Army sought to clarify and promote the values which have been at the heart of American military service for over 200 years.  Leaders felt that by emphasizing the values that we held, fought for and died for, they could produce a better fighting force.  The mnemonic “LDRSHIP”, pronounced as “leadership”, communicated what the Army was all about.

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The Informative Brief

How can we effectively brief our bosses, our peers, and other stakeholders to educate them on important issues, and in the end, achieve our goals? 

A senior civilian official in the military health system was at a surgical conference with a young Navy colleague. They chatted, and in the course of their conversation the Navy surgeon mentioned some exciting things that he was doing in his clinic to improve access, operating room utilization and quality of care.  The civilian official asked the younger man to prepare a talk to present to a group of senior leaders. Eventually word of this arrangement spread throughout the levels of command and my team was tasked with making sure that the brief accomplished its purpose.

The Navy surgeon was smart, industrious, and enthusiastic about his team’s accomplishments. Their record was impressive, providing more patient care with better outcomes, higher satisfaction and fewer resources than before. Operating room utilization improved, and the surgical fellowship, threatened by poor case mix and volume, was on firmer ground.

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DOTMLPF-P Analysis and Military Medicine

A comprehensive and highly useful military model for analyzing and addressing problems that does well in non-military settings as well.

My staff and I were meeting at the end of a long day. As representatives of the regional headquarters they had been working with their counterparts at our subordinate medical facilities on an important project with a tight suspense, and they had met resistance. One exasperated lady at a hospital said, “Tell your boss that we have full time jobs already!” Another one said, “This regional initiative just isn’t my top priority right now”, and one of my staff said “Sir, there just aren’t enough hours in the day.” Everyone who has worked long in leadership and management has heard these complaints time and again.

There is always a temptation to ignore such concerns and keep pushing, but that is rarely the right thing to do. One concern from my staff is that they did not feel as though their counterparts in the clinics and hospitals considered them value added. They wanted cooperation on these vital projects but did not perceive that they had much to give in return. This is a perpetual problem and when I worked in a hospital, I felt the same way about the regional staff.

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Jonathan Potts – American Revolutionary Physician

Military physicians, just like all soldiers and military officers, should read military history. We will be better if we do.

Napoleon suggested “Read over and over again the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus, Turenne, Eugene and Frederic. … This is the only way to become a great general and master the secrets of the art of war. …” As true as this maxim is for line officers, it is also true for leaders in the Army medical department. By studying the struggles, victories and defeats of our forebears we can better surmount the obstacles we face today.

Dr. Jonathan Potts is a medical officer worth studying. He was born in Popodickon, Pennsylvania in 1747 and, with Dr. Benjamin Rush, attended the famous medical school in Edinburgh, Scotland. He returned to the colonies on learning of the illness of his fiancé, Miss Grace Richardson. Potts married her in May 1767 and completed his Doctor of Medicine at the College of Philadelphia, the first institution to grant medical degrees in America, in 1771. He began a private practice in Reading, PA, but responded to the call of independence, seeking assignment with the Continental Hospital Department, comprised of Northern, Middle and Eastern Departments.

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Briefing Senior Leaders

How to brief (make a presentation to) your boss?

One of the most daunting tasks faced by junior officers in the military, and subordinates in any organization, is how to formally communicate with their boss and other senior leaders. Some senior leaders are easy to communicate with; they welcome open discussion and make those briefing them comfortable. Others are hard to communicate with, and as people progress up the ranks they find that senior leaders become harder and harder to brief.

This is not because senior leaders are bad people morally, they are certainly not worse than others on average. It is not because they are stupid or lazy; senior leaders have to be relatively intelligent and ambitious or they wouldn’t make it to senior levels. Rather it is because they are very busy people who don’t have time for the unprepared, the uninterested, the verbose, and the comic. They expect their subordinates to bring them trustworthy information, problems and solutions. Such leaders don’t have the time or the ability to double the information they are given, and they can’t fix everything, regardless of their position.

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