Saturday, 23 June 2007

Playing Nero (conclusion)

AS we in management know only too well, while it is the soldiers who fight the battles, it is the commanders who win the wars.

Winning a single encounter on the battlefield can sometimes be a matter of luck, or pure chance. However, to win an entire campaign takes strategic genius — knowing exactly when to attack, which time to retreat, what weapons to deploy, selecting the battle formations to employ, and choosing the people to do the fighting. That is why victorious leaders are often credited for being strategically brilliant.

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Often the “winningest” or most victorious generals are not the ones with the most resources at their disposal. While they may be strong in some areas, there will be others where they will be weaker than their opponents. The skill that sets them apart is their ability to tell exactly which of their strengths they can turn to superior advantage, and how they are able to reinforce their weaknesses to make them less vulnerable to counter attacks.

Less emphasized but clearly vital, victorious leaders are pragmatists and realists. They are never so proud as to deny that they or their organizations have failings and shortcomings.

Armed with this knowledge, they can then set about and conquer those that stand in the way between them and victory.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it. Well not quite. Because even the best of them sometimes falter. Perhaps egos get in the way, and the feeling of invincibility from winning too many encounters can bring about the complacency that could sometimes lead to a false sense of security.

Armies and business organizations share a lot in common — and what we have been describing in the earlier paragraphs apply equally as much to winning wars as they do to conquering markets. Leading a winning business organization in today’s global marketplace is as much a huge strategic challenge as winning a World War.

As we discussed earlier, trade-offs in critical situations need to be addressed correctly. Clearly, when an army is focused on building trenches and fortifications, it cannot, at the same time, advance and attack enemy positions. Likewise, one that prefers defensive fortifications cannot be mobile and quick on the counterattack.

As with many things, the outcomes of wars often depend on the choices commanders make.

Too many leaders in business today make too many poor choices. While the critical areas are somewhere else, they expend their valuable resources addressing those that are less significant. Either by ignorance or lack of creativity, they do the things they like to do, rather than those they have to do.

Often because of their backgrounds and skills, they are focused on areas where they feel comfortable in, rather than where the business needs in order to succeed.

Which brings me back to where I started with this series of articles.

Business leaders often do the things they feel like doing, not those that really need to be done. While the enemy outflanks them and attacks their unguarded rear, they insist on spending their time digging deeper and deeper foxholes!

Not so different really from the ones in my friend’s organization. While the demand for their products was shrinking rapidly, they turned all their efforts in making sure it costs them less to make them. Even my friend, who is an operations manager and knows little about the demand side of the business, knew only too well that their leaders were playing Nero, while their entire business was burning to the ground.

Published by the Star Daily, Saturday, June 23, 2007 (

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