If you feel as if a day in the office is more like a day in the trenches, you could always call in the cavalry for a little help--literally. This column's books are distillations of wisdom from military leaders of all sorts and all ages. From Sun Tzu to Mao Tse Tung, from Napoleon to General George Patton, the books look at the way the military operates and translates these leaders' strategies into business tactics.
Battlefield strategy may sound a little odd for running a business, especially an advisory business heavy on client relationships, but you'd be surprised at the depths of wisdom present in some of these offerings. After all, a successful battle of any kind is won with the efforts of enthusiastic troops doing their best, supporting each other, and achieving tactical objectives, often against the odds and under trying circumstances. Ideally, the troops will be operating under a leader they respect and admire, and will give their all to resolve the situation. Doesn't this sound like the way you'd like your business to run? (Minus the worst circumstances part, of course.)
Insights of the Generals
William A. Cohen, a retired Air Force major general, has written two of our offerings: The New Art of the Leader (Prentice Hall Press, 2000), and Wisdom of the Generals: From Adversity to Success, and From Fear to Victory; How To Triumph in Business and in Life (Prentice Hall Press, 2001). The former is an excellent course in becoming the best leader you can be, inspiring your staff, and maintaining fair dealings with your clients. The second is not only filled with insights into the essential elements of both war and business--derived from leaders including Joan of Arc and Erwin Rommel--but offers pithy, real-life examples.
Leader is a gung-ho (and I use the term deliberately) study of the abilities that make a leader stand out from his peers and encourage subordinates to put out their best efforts to get the job done. Chapter by chapter, Cohen breaks down leadership into its various components. Through examples of successful men and women and their handling of difficult, sometimes almost impossible, situations, as well as their treatment of staff, peers, and even competitors, Cohen illustrates the strategies that allow one man or woman to succeed where others have failed.
He also stresses a very important point: Leaders are made, not born. In a number of his examples, he cites generals and others who were, at one point or another in their careers, in danger of losing everything through poor leadership skills. But through continued effort and by learning from their mistakes, they managed to transform themselves into extraordinary examples of leadership in action.
Encouraging teamwork, morale building, and leading by example are just a few of the ways that superior leaders achieve their results, according to Cohen. Among the many examples he provides is the story about the "Custer medal," which General George Armstrong Custer would give to his men when he felt they deserved a reward for their actions. It was not official, but official recognition would take so long that Custer would be frustrated. So he provided his own awards to show that he recognized his men's achievements. (And at the other end of the recognition spectrum, Cohen talks about the pink Cadillacs given out by Mary Kay Cosmetics to reward superior performance.)
The book's diverse viewpoints and insights can help you develop your own leadership capabilities, even if you don't give out medals or pink Cadillacs.
Cohen's other book, Wisdom of the Generals, is a fascinating book, if only for the diversity of military leaders the author quotes.
The main part of the book is divided into character traits and abilities: such things as Audacity, Commitment, Deception, Decision Making, Duty, Humor, Imagination, Integrity, and Responsibility. Each section is introduced by quotations that pertain to that particular characteristic, and then the author presents leaders who exemplified that characteristic. For instance, under Example, one of the quotations is, "I used to say to them, 'go boldly in among the English,' and then I used to go boldly in myself"--Joan of Arc. And under Vision, consider what the Prussian general Clausewitz had to say: "No one starts a war--or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so--without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it." Suitable advice for any campaign, whether an attempt to increase sales or to go after a niche market.
As a compendium of insights into some of the greatest strategists of all time, this book is worth a look. Its usefulness doesn't stop there, though, because the practical information it imparts can make a difference in the way you do business.
War Between the States
Civil War buffs will find the next two books of particular interest, even if they don't care a fig about military or business strategy. These books not only give insights into the way the war was fought, but also provide excellent examinations of the men themselves, through quotes (the Grant book draws heavily on the Union general's own memoirs) and examples of both their successes and their failures.
Cigars, Whiskey & Winning: Leadership Lessons from General Ulysses S. Grant, by Al Kaltman (Prentice Hall Press, 1998) follows Grant's entire military career, from his admission to West Point through the end of the Civil War, with a section on his failed presidency. From the very beginning to the end, Grant comes across as an intelligent man of great capabilities, if politically na?ve. Glimpses of his campaigns and quotes from some Civil War contemporaries offer interesting reading, as well as pointing out the incredible stupidity of acting blindly. The earliest example of this, "Bureaucrats Do the Dumbest Things," relates the story of how Grant's West Point paperwork had been made out in the wrong name because of a mistake on the part of the Congressman who gave him the appointment. When Grant arrived at West Point, he tried to have the error corrected, only to be told that if he wanted to stay, he would have to change his name from Hiram Ulysses Grant to Ulysses Simpson Grant, the name on the paperwork. Blind devotion to regulations meant that the Academy did not care what his name actually was, only what was on the paper that got him in.
From such examples of short-sighted foolishness, the book goes on to relate how Grant gave his men a chance to prove themselves, yet was not afraid to remove people from positions of power if it became necessary to achieve his battlefield objectives. He developed plans that managed to overcome the South's strategies and tactics and refused to be intimidated by the generals he faced. And when he was criticized for his drinking by Congressmen who sought to have Lincoln remove him from command, Lincoln responded by asking the Congressmen if "they knew what he drank, what brand of whiskey he used . . . I urged them to ascertain and let me know, for if it made fighting generals like Grant I should like to get some of it for distribution."
Kaltman fortunately didn't stop with Grant. He is also the author of Leadership Lessons for the Outgunned, Outnumbered, and Underfinanced: The Genius of Robert E. Lee (Prentice Hall Press, 2000). Written in the same format as the Grant book (each chapter contains an incident from Lee's life and the attendant lesson to be learned), it takes us through Lee's career, from his childhood through the end of the Civil War and briefly into his career as president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University).
Lee's ability to get things done was impressive even before the Civil War. The Army Corps of Engineers was charged with diverting the Mississippi River to prevent the Missouri side of the river from becoming too shallow for riverboats to ply their trade there. A land speculator on the Illinois side obtained an injunction to prevent the Corps from completing the project, claiming that property values on the Illinois side would suffer if it were completed. Lee couldn't get a court hearing until "after the onset of winter, when construction would have to be halted due to the weather." Not believing the speculator's claim of declining land values, he turned the work over to the city of St. Louis under the supervision of his civilian assistant, and loaned the city the Corps equipment so that it could proceed with the work. Lesson? There's more than one way to get a job done, even if totally unreasonable obstacles are placed in your path.
The insights offered in this pair of books can go a long way toward broadening your education on how to treat people, react to unfortunate situations, and achieve your goals even against the odds.
Lessons From the East
Then there's Dean Lundell's Sun Tzu's Art of War for Traders and Investors (McGraw Hill, 1997). This book is different in that it pays more attention to how battle strategies can be applied specifically to the market--and with the way things have been headed there lately, maybe that's not such a bad thing. Sun Tzu's original Art of War was divided into thirteen chapters, and Lundell, a principal at Osiris Trading in Chicago and a Vietnam War veteran, has followed that format in his own book, applying the lessons of Sun Tzu to the world of stocks.
Chapters include such subjects as Strategic Appraisal, Planning Attack, Effectiveness, Terrain, and Collecting Intelligence. The pithy offerings of the sixth century B.C. general are offered, followed by Lundell's translation of them to modern-day market strategies. While a few of them are a bit inscrutable for the average market participant, other offerings are quite on the mark and even witty ("Sun Tzu said that we cannot turn natural advantages to our benefit unless we use local guides. Do not hesitate to talk with your alliance and others who might have an informed opinion. Informed opinion does not mean inside information. It is difficult to trade from prison.").
This book may change the way you approach the markets, and therefore change your results.