Category Archives: Business Warfare

Leadership: The Effective Leader’s Mind

David J. Rogers writes for artists, writers, performers, and creative people of all kinds and has also provided consulting in strategy and leadership to some of the world’s largest corporations. He has lectured on these subjects extensively in North America and Europe. His best-selling book Waging Business Warfare: Lessons from the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority–now a new, revised, and updated E-book–has been called a business masterpiece.

“The responsibility for a host of a million lies in one leader who is the trigger of its spirit.”(Ho Yen-His)

alexander-the-great-35767_640The greatest competitive leaders in business, whatever the industry, are exceptional. They may be anywhere in the organization—as is also true of leaders in warfare. They are out of the ordinary because they combine a complement of qualities that equip them perfectly for a leader’s life but that are only rarely found together in one individual. They are knowledgeable, talented, creative, intelligent, energetic, flexible, and driven. They are obsessed with the need to take direct action and mix it up with the competition, and they are savvy strategic thinkers.

Hannibal, the Carthaginian (247-183 B.C), was a true master of strategy. In fact, he is called the father of strategy. Napoleon considered him superb in every aspect of warring, and the Duke of Wellington thought him to be the single greatest soldier in all of history. To this day Hannibal’s victory against the Romans, commanded by Varro at Cannae in 216 B.C., is considered the most perfect tactical battle ever fought. Hannibal’s army of 50,000 annihilated the Roman army of 86,000.

Before the battle began, Hannibal, knowing the importance of a leader keeping his people informed, called his army together and addressed them. He told them that at a certain point during the fighting it would appear that they were about to lose, but to have courage and have no fear because what would be happening then was part of his plan, and soon the tide would turn. It has been said that the mind of the leader is passed on to ten thousand subordinates.  A great leader is an inspiring leader.

How could a much smaller army beat a larger one, and so deci­sively? The historian Polybius provides an important answer: it wasn’t Hannibal’s soldiers or order of battle that made the Carthagin­ian army superior to the Romans. It was Hanni­bal’s superior personal skills. Then Polybius makes a matter-of-fact comment that carries immense implications for businesses vying for com­petitive excellence: “As soon as the Romans found a general who equaled Hannibal in ability, they immediately defeated him.”

And how could a little pipsqueak of a company like the WD-40 Company with its minute work force consistently outcompete giants Du Pont, 3M, and Pennzoil the way Hannibal beat the Romans?

In short, a contest within the contest between the Carthaginian and Roman armies was the contest between leaders. The better leader won; the less capable leader lost. More than 135,000 men took part in the battle of Cannae, each pitting his abilities against his counterpart on the other side. Yet it was the qualities of just two human beings—Varro and Hannibal— which stood out and dominated the day.

startup-594126_640 (1)The situation is precisely the same in business competitions. Many companies have had all the material resources necessary to gain the advantage over competitors but weren’t able to do so until the right leader with the right vision, right strategy, right plan, and right insights into how to manage people took charge. We should guard against becoming so accustomed to discussing competitions between businesses that we forget that businesses don’t run themselves: people run them. We shouldn’t forget for a moment that behind the corporate names GE, Procter & Gamble, IBM, McDonald’s, Toyota, GM, Microsoft—and behind their every strategic and tactical move are the leaders who are pitting their quality as leaders against the quality of competitors’ leaders.

CEOs know how integrally leadership ability bears on the well-being of their corporations. When 300 of them around the world were asked what they would look for in their successors, “personal leadership style” was the most sought-after attribute. “Aggressive competi­tive outlook” was second. Who a leader is and what he or she is made of and how clear a thinker may be more important than all the other company resources, including size and wealth.

Every strategic and tactical move reflects the minds, the spirits, and the personalities of those leaders. However much information the business man or woman or entrepreneur has in hand–studies, reports, analyses, anecdotal stories, scenarios–strategic decisions require problem-solving under shifting, loosely-defined, ill-structured circumstances. They are made in a kind of fog and because of the fog always require of leaders qualities of decisiveness, courage, and clear thinking.

Man thinking-23838_640Effective leader-strategists are thinkers with a two-pronged ability. First, they are sensitive to the complexities of the problems they are facing and able to process multiple perspectives. They try patiently to understand the situation objectively and to penetrate the problem to its core.  They also consider a range of goals that are sometimes inconsistent before considering a number of solutions and arriving at a satisfactory answer. Then, second, they are equally adept at integrating the perspectives into a coherent viewpoint, in this instance, a strategy. They are not conservative in their thinking, but are independent, open-minded, and flexible.

People with little strategic ability, being less complex thinkers, think simply. They work with only a single, simplistic perspective, and are generally unwilling or unable to consider alternative solutions. They are impatient and evaluate quickly and then turn to other matters. Their thinking tends to be rigid, dogmatic, and inflexible, a world removed from the more active, quick, alert, and subtle mind of the superb leader-strategist.

French colonel Ardant du Picq (1821-70) made highly detailed and scrupulous studies of the factors leading to success in battle. His most fundamental conclusion was that “It is the mind that wins battles; that will always win them, that always has won them throughout the world’s history.”

In his Art of War, Sun Tzu (400-320 B.C.) put the issue quite simply: any commander will be able to forecast which side will win by answering the question, “Which of the two commanders has the most ability: me or him, (or her)?”

It is minds that win business competitions—often one woman, one man sitting in an office alone, thinking.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Filed under Business Strategy, Business Warfare, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Goals and Purposes, Leadership, Success

Are You a Zombie? A One-Second Yes or No Quiz

zombie-156138_150I’m wondering if something like this has ever happened to you:

I went to a company I’d never visited before to do consulting with them. I opened the front door and walked in and something was wrong. “What is this?” I thought, looking round. “Everyone is so SLOW. They’re moving slow; they’re talking slow. He’s slow and she’s slow. The janitor is slow and the CEO is slow. The whole work force is slow. They’re just slow.”

My first job after college was with a very slow company. I’ve been to many slow companies, slow people from top to bottom.

Do you know slow companies, slow people like that? Do they drive you nuts?

They’re lethargic. They take forever to make decisions. Meetings never start on time. There’s never a sense of urgency about anything. When they were students employees turned their papers in late and made excuses. Now, grown up and in a job, they haven’t changed. They turn their assignments in late and still make excuses—and no one seems to care. Deadlines don’t mean a thing if they’re inconvenient.

In a graduate course I was taking the assignment was to do a research paper and present the results in a ten-minute oral presentation. I sat there listening and thought one presentation after another was terrible. Now I knew everyone and knew that they were smarter and more knowledgeable than their presentations would suggest. I decided that they were under-performing because they weren’t setting their standards high enough. The whole class was settling for mediocrity and no one wanted to be the first to say “I’m one person who’s not going to settle for mediocrity.” They didn’t want to be the first to break the mediocrity norm.

In the same way, in some companies and non-profit organizations and schools bad habits creep in and a never-spoken-of agreement develops that no one is to work too hard. The whole organization then becomes slow. But put hard-working dynamos among them and watch the tempo pick up. Once the first student in that class gave an exceptional presentation, the habit of mediocrity was broken and the presentations that followed were very good.

I point out in my book Waging Business Warfare that business competitions are won by companies made up of “movers and firers,” enthusiastic, energetic, high-spirited people who have this in common: they always want to get into the action and mix it up with the competition. They improve morale, that miraculous state of mind producing determination, zeal, and the will to win. Quarterback great John Brodie said that at times the whole team rises up a notch or two. That’s the effect movers and firers have.

 The Erwin Rommel Gauge

Erwin Rommel, the legendary German Field Marshall in WW II—the “Desert Fox” whose Blitzkrieg attacks emphasized speed above everything—said that you can tell which side is going to win the battle simply by watching the tempo with which troops move. I think that’s true of businesses and people in any walk of life, and in their personal lives too.

I would bet that using the Rommel measuring stick of employee work tempo we could predict the probable winners of business competitions, fast companies being more likely to win than slow companies.

I’d expect that skill level being more or less the same and personality issues being similar, the person with the quicker work tempo would get the promotion over the slower candidate.

So I would think the fast employee will make more money and climb higher.

I would suspect too that work tempo directly affects a company’s productivity and profitability.

 Achievers and Zombies

Some people you know move through life at an accelerated clip. They’re DECISIVE. They’re QUICK. But others you know are locked in neutral, or are moving in reverse. They’re walking under water. They’re in a stupor. It’s noon before they realize they’re alive. They’re zombies.

Achievers do things fast. They know that when things are done lethargically, seven out of ten turn out poorly. They’ve got ENERGY. They’ve got ZEST. They’re EXCITABLE. Their by-word is “RIGHT NOW!”

  1. Get in the habit of deciding what you want to do and doing it decisively, even if it’s just taking a drink of water. If you drink, DRINK.
  2. Fall in love with action.
  3. Whatever it is, do it now.
  4. Be impatient with delay.
  5. Set the standard for speed.
  6. Guard against becoming a zombie.
  7. If you’re in a slow company be a norm-breaker, be a mover and firer.
  8. When a flint strikes steel, sparks fly. Be a flint striking steel. Make sparks.

The first archaeologist to the tomb, the first person to a goal, the first runner to the tape, and the first company to the market reap the richest rewards.

Whatever you’re doing, pick up the tempo.

© 2014 David J. Rogers


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Filed under Blocks to Action, Business Strategies and Tactics, Business Warfare

How to Win Your Business Wars

cannon-309152_150My interest is in helping people achieve. My book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life is based on the philosophy that to reach fulfillment and achievements in very practical ways every person must become highly skilled at overcoming a variety of obstacles, most of them in ourselves. The book teaches those skills and has been very well received.

Then people started asking me for ideas that would relate to the realities of business that they faced every day, particularly the business competitions that affected their livelihood. Now it is obvious that the most intense form of competition is warfare. So I set to work organizing my research and thoughts relating business and warfare. The result was my book Waging Business Warfare: Lessons from the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority.

Let me introduce you to it now.

The Name of this Game is Competition

Where there are profits to be made, as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow there will be competition. And at times the competition will be intense, and the fate of businesses and careers may depend on who at the end of the fray has a higher share of those profits.

You may say, “We are not obsessed with the competition, with competing.” But your competitors may have an-us-versus-them mentality and be obsessed with you. They do not have your best interests at heart, to put it mildly. The promise of profits makes what is now yours appealing to them.

So it is wise, as it is said in warfare, to be prepared for anything.

 A Radio Station That Wanted to Win

I’d just finished being interviewed about Waging Business Warfare on a radio station when the station General Manager poked her head into the studio and invited me into her office.

“I love what you have to say,” she said. “If only we’d known this stuff a few years ago we’d be a lot better off than we are today.”

The station’s ratings and advertising revenues were in the middle of the pack. But the General Manager had high ambitions and hired me to apply the Principles of War—the basis of my book—to her operation by training her personnel and developing a strategic and tactical plan based on those principles that could be implemented quickly.

All the staff were involved in training, from the newest and least senior person to on-air jocks. (Who had a lot to contribute.) The training was based on the notion that people have an unlimited ability to learn new information, master new tasks, and adapt to new responsibilities.

It challenged staff, and they became deeply involved and responded with great enthusiasm. The training was given over a four-week period and a strategic/tactical plan of action was developed, distributed to everyone who had participated in training, and then was implemented immediately.

 Business Failures: A Dismal Story

Six hundred thousand new companies will open in the United States this year, many on-line, and start competing with all the optimism in the world. Many businessmen and businesswomen will have been dreaming about starting their business for years. Ten per cent will succeed, but 9 out of 10 will have competitive difficulties and will fail, and those dreams will be shattered.

They will lose their business war because they aren’t prepared to compete, and someone else who is better prepared will win.

A Vocabulary You Already Have

It’s not hard for business people to see the connection between business and warfare. When business theorists looked for a model as they were starting the field of business strategy they studied warfare.

The language of warfare already permeates the business vocabulary. Where do businesses compete? On the “battle ground.” Companies “launch offensives.” On the advertising and marketing “fronts”, they take “preemptive moves,” “battle” for market share, and engage in price “wars.” Small companies justifiably call themselves “guerrillas” and sales reps everywhere are “the troops,” the “foot soldiers.” They work on “the firing line.” And where does the real action of any company take place? In the “trenches.” Companies “seize the offensive” and “flank” the competition.

 Intense Competition

Realizing that warfare is too important to be left to chance (there is no margin of error in warfare), the great practitioners of war–the master strategists, kings, and generals throughout history that populate the book–looked for hard and fast guidelines, blueprints for victory that could not fail but to lead to success.

They agreed on a small number of universal truths, now called the Principles of War. Those principles make the study of warfare not just a group of disorganized notions and random ideas, but a complete, supremely well thought-out and tested science, one that predates the study of business management and marketing by thousands of years.

Business as a form of warfare subject to the Principles of War is the core competitive approach of some of the most profitable and fastest-growing companies in the world. During the PC wars between Microsoft and Apple, and between iOS and Android in the smart phone wars, the Principles of War were and are being applied. That’s why winners—small companies or large– are victorious, though they might not realize that fact.

The Principles of Waging Business Warfare in Brief

  1. Good leadership is the first requisite of competitive superiority. An army of deer led by a lion is more to be feared than an army of lions led by a deer.
  2. Maintain your objective; adjust your plan. Winners focus on only one thing: the main objective. They don’t wander off on tangents. But no plan survives the first contact with the competition, so you must adjust the plan.
  3. Concentrate greater strength at the decisive point. The cause of most successes in business and warfare both can be summarized for brevity in just one word: “concentration.” Yet in business, concentration is the most often neglected principle.
  4. Take the offensive and maintain mobility. The side whose strategic and tactical ideas are superior will usually gain the upper hand and do so soon after the competition begins and at less cost than the other side. You cannot win unless at some point you take the offensive. Many businesses do not seem to know this.
  5. Follow the course of least resistance. Never get into a pissing contest with a porcupine.
  6. Achieve security. Know your competitors, know how their leaders think, know the desires of the consumers of today and tomorrow—and the day after.
  7. Make certain all personnel play their part. High productivity is an offensive weapon, and it is never equal on both sides. Like armies, businesses will go only as far as their personnel will take them. You want action-oriented “movers and firers” who always want to get into the action.

 The Radio Station with the Will to Win

The radio station implemented the strategic and tactical plan we had developed and the personnel applied what training had taught them. The station quickly shot to number one in the market in not one, but all its demographics, and its advertising revenues rose accordingly.

In addition, as expected, staff morale sky-rocketed. Intense competitions are exciting for the people engaged in them, whether they are between American-Japanese-Korean-German-French-Swedish auto manufacturers or between Verizon and AT&T and between basic cable and Direct Broadcast Satellite TV or between beer and spirits breweries, between one restaurant and another restaurant, or aggressive competitors of any size in any line of business in any city or town in any country on earth.

© 2014 David J. Rogers

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