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Leadership: Tools of Power

I’m reading Karl Marlantes’ monumental contribution – What It Means To Go To War. It comes on the heels of Matterhorn – his gritty and totally gripping thinly disguised account of the face of battle for him in Vietnam.

The stark world of the soldier and the demonic dilemmas young folks sent to battle must digest is there. No wonder returnees – whether Americans from Iraq or Canadians from Afghanistan – experience so much Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and suicide. The examples in What it Means are contemporary – Afghanistan, the horn of Africa and the control rooms in desert America where the drones are dispatched.

Who sends these lads and ladies off with a legitimate mandate of violence against their fellow human? Political leaders. What is the objective? By use of force to achieve a political objective – usually control of territory. That’s not our world. Or is it?

What is leadership really about? It is the orchestration of power to achieve an objective.
Our quest over the last half century has been to characterize leadership as inspiration, by example or speech. In reaction to past excesses, leadership was recast – away from pure bullying and intimidation. It was a nicer world that way.
That characterization embraces the cultural reality that people have their own minds: they are less compliant than during, say, World War 2.

They must be drawn alongside in what they are being asked to do through:

  • portrayal of the rightness and value of what we are doing,
  • open disclosure of the logic of our approach,
  • participation in determining how the work will be executed,
  • sensitive interactions with them while they do it
  • growth, job satisfaction and return for them.

Through high involvement, acknowledging the intelligence, self direction and dignity of members, we work together in an enlightened way. Through this TACTIC, we have harnessed the full person to the work, not just their arms and legs.

But let us not lose track of the end  that leaders are commissioned to achieve. The objective, whether profit or market domination or efficient execution of a biz process or completion of a project, is God. The Steve Jobs story has lately brought this back into focus.

I was mentoring a divisional manager. He asked, “What is my real job?”   My response? “Send money.”
Just as with an Army’s officers and soldiers, contemporary leaders are entrusted with the tools of power to get there. What are those?

  • a mandate, a commission: the mantle of obligation to produce an outcome is bestowed on the leader
  • orchestration of the order of battle: the leader ultimately determines how the attack will be made
  • assets: corporate power and resources are made available for leaders to use in the cause
  • organization: fashioning a cohesive unit with all necessary roles and none to excess
  • budget: coupling money to people and assets
  • power to hire: who we bring on to the team has more to do with ultimate contribution from a given role than any “corrections” later can make up for
  •   reinforcement: inducements [and sanctions] deployed to move staff forward to the desired end
  • discipline: confronting underperformers or, [more difficult!], contributors – who are not aligned with others or the objective
  • power to fire: removal and replacement of non-contributing members
  • report: what the leader tells the next level up determines their understanding of progress and continuing confidence in her

The leader is commissioned, entrusted to use these and other tools of power to get to the required end. Being able to execute these determine the leader’s success. Some might be tempted to put these second to inspiration, morale and the “nice” aspects – those might be termed the “spirit” of the work. They are important, surely, and if not orchestrated correctly can bring you down. But not central. Elegance is using the tools with a style that infuses dignity and worth into the process.

Real leadership and the use of the tools of power has impact and consequences. Those must be absorbed by both the leaders and the led. Pretending they should not be there, “if we do it right” is not helpful. They are a necessary part of the domain.
Karl Marlantes portrays this viscerally. I’m sure you can translate to your own world. It’s not as far from his as we might like.

Doug Bouey
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

What’s Our Business?

Bringing out the best in you, your company and your people.

Doug Bouey, President
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Calgary, AB // Phone: 403.777.1144


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