Leadership: It’s not about Power, Position, or Personality
New Book Reveals Secrets of Becoming a Progress-Making Leader
What do Oprah Winfrey, Winston Churchill, Mary Kay Ash, Jonas Salk, and Lance Armstrong have in common? Not much, if you look at their temperaments, viewpoints, and passions. Yet, each has demonstrated the unique ability to define, make and sustain progress during times of success as well as disappointment.
Oddly, though, current leadership books rarely discuss the notion of progress. Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers: Leadership for the 21st Century is a new book that makes progress the centerpiece of a fresh perspective on leadership.
Progress Makers weaves together original research, novel strategies and tactics with stories of successful leaders to provide a refreshingly original perspective on how to become a progress-making leader. The book illustrates key concepts with in-depth profiles of successful leaders including a coffee entrepreneur, a general in the U.S. Army, a newspaper editor-in-chief and an executive with a Fortune 500 company.
The book features new leadership research including findings from:
The book emerged from a unique collaboration between a professor and a business executive that resulted in actionable ideas grounded in sound research and tested in the rigors of organizational life. Special chapters on how leaders “select, detect, and correct organizational errors” and “enlarge the circle of engagement” illustrate the unique insights gleaned from the collaboration. Progress Makers will help executives, managers, professionals, students, and small business owners move beyond the traditional leadership skill-set to a progress-centered conviction.
Brigadier General H.R. McMasterProgress Maker Profile Excerpted from Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers Authors: Phillip G. Clampitt, Ph.D. & Robert J. DeKoch
If you asked your typical career counselor about how to move up the corporate ladder, then you probably would not receive the following advice: 1) write a highly critical review of the decisions and decision-making process of those in charge, 2) publish the review in a book titled, Dereliction of Duty, and 3) watch the book become a critically acclaimed best-seller. Then again, there is nothing typical about Brigadier General H.R. McMaster, who did just that. He does not fit the stereotypical image of a military general. After all, he earned a Ph.D. in American History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And despite the burdens of military command, he has amassed a scholarly record of articles and speeches that would be the envy of most college professors.
He breaks the Hollywood typecast in other ways. When you talk with him his voice relays a sense of tentativeness and confidence. The tentativeness arises from an experienced conviction that his facts, analyses, and conclusions may be in error. He invites you to challenge them. One key tenet of his leadership philosophy is “don’t be afraid to change your thinking. Sometimes we get caught up in flawed ideas and we just can’t let them go.” 1 The confidence, though, emerges from a deep-seated belief that he can take in all the contradictory facts and analyses and synthesize them into a workable path forward. After all, another one of his key tenets of leadership is to “make sure your objectives are clear and you know what your mission is”. 2 In essence he believes that “confidence should not equate with certainty.” 3
He has a passion for passing on lessons learned to others. That’s why he wrote Dereliction of Duty. 4 As a young soldier and scholar he realized there were profound lessons to be learned from the Vietnam War. He wanted to unearth them, deeply understand them, and teach them to a new generation of military professionals. It is the spirit of a learner and teacher that pervades his treatises. Unlike some investigative reporters, he does not seek to embarrass people or stoke the flames of a scandal. Instead, he reflects, contemplates, synthesizes, and seeks out underlying patterns.
Many academic historians pride themselves on being dispassionate chroniclers of the past. They are the educated bystanders who tell the stories of others; ones they rarely experienced first-hand. Consequently, few historians would fit our criteria as progress makers. Here again, General McMaster breaks with the conventional wisdom. He can tell the story of warfare first hand. And he can describe it with passion, precision and perspective. The passion emerges from the first-hand experience of the vagaries, pressures and brutalities of armed combat. The 2 precision materializes from a keen eye for the telling detail. And the perspective emerges from an ability to put the conflict in the deep historical context of both friend and foe. This rare elixir of qualities provides a glimpse into how he has been able to build new platforms, abandon them, and construct new ones at precisely the right time. We can illustrate this progress- making ability by examining two of his seemingly different command experiences in the first and second Gulf wars.
In late February of 1991, then Captain McMaster led the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment into one of the first Gulf War battles with the notorious Republican Guard. In what is known as the Battle of 73 Easting, he commanded a brigade of nine tanks into an encounter with a superior force of Iraqi tanks under the command of Major Mohammed. (The Iraqi Major actually trained in the United States at the Infantry Officer Advanced Course at Fort Benning, Georgia.) A hard rain the day before produced a heavy fog which gave way to a blinding sandstorm. Nevertheless the order to engage the enemy went forward. And with Captain McMaster’s tank at the tip of the V-shaped wedge, the Regiment executed the command with astonishing velocity and ferocity. Something far deadlier than a sandstorm soon slammed down on General Mohammed’s well-positioned tanks and troops; it was McMaster’s mortars and artillery. Within minutes, the enemies’ first and second lines of defense were overwhelmed by McMaster’s unit. The pace was so aggressive, quick, and disciplined that General Mohammed barely reached his command bunker before his entire force was demolished. The superior training, discipline and element of surprise were the key factors to the astonishing results: 50 T- 72 enemy tanks destroyed, 40 trucks and other vehicles disabled, while U.S forces suffered no casualties. 5 And Captain McMaster won the U.S. Army’s third highest medal, the Silver Star, for “gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.”
A superficial analysis of the Battle of 73 Easting might glean the lesson that lightening quick aggressive action is the key to winning wars. But there is nothing superficial about General McMaster. Years later when writing about the battle in a memorandum for his Platoon leaders he notes, “The Battle of 73 Easting may not at all be relevant to the way you fight a platoon in combat.” 6
In fact, his intellectual dexterity can be best illustrated by comparing the Battle of 73 Easting with his leadership 14 years later during the second Gulf War in the remote Iraq town, Tal Afar. Same country. Different mission. Different strategy.
First, some history. Prior to the McMaster’s posting in Tal Afar in 2005, Shia extremists, al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups were ripping apart the country in the power vacuum left by the demise of Sadaam Hussein’s government. 7 The surge of U.S. troops allowed a major shift in military action toward a counterinsurgency strategy advocated by McMaster. His strategy, developed with others under the leadership of General Petraeus, was exactly the opposite of swift and aggressive action that worked so well in other conflicts. In fact, it required patience, not speed and restraint, not bold aggression. It took patience to work with the civilian 3 population to build up trust and the infrastructure to root out the insurgents. It took restraint to use force only when necessary. 8
Making such a “clear, hold, and build” strategy work in practice proved enormously challenging even for the best military minds. 9 But it was necessary if the mission was to defeat the insurgency, create a capable and trusted Iraqi military force, build a legitimate government and cultivate the right conditions for economic renewal.
What to do? McMaster helped build a new platform to meet these mission goals. It was unconventional war and it required an unconventional platform. It was unconventional to extensively train U.S. soldiers in Iraqi and Islamic history. It was unconventional to immerse some of the front-line troops in the basics of the Arabic language. It was unconventional to bring in professors with regional expertise to lecture the troops about the cultural mores, history and people of the region where they were going to be posted. And it resulted in unequivocal success in the region because the troops used their unique capabilities to execute the strategy. By the end of 2007, the military operations and counterinsurgency campaign drove al Qaeda and other insurgents out of much of Iraq. By 2008, “violence in Iraq decreased dramatically” and paved the way for a drawdown of troops in subsequent years. 10
Why did it work? Because General McMaster believes you must build deep understanding of the culture where you wage counterinsurgency efforts. It goes beyond respecting another culture’s traditions; it involves seeing the world from the perspective of the civilian population. This is not some kind of feel-good incantation. Rather McMaster’s commanders translated that idea into a work-a- day rule: “Every time you treat a civilian disrespectfully, you are working for the enemy.” 11 If the troops can see how their actions might be used in the hands of insurgent propagandists, then the training has built the mindset necessary for a counterinsurgent war. That’s when the success of a mission turns less on the number of enemy killed, and more on the number of tips received from civilians about insurgent activities. It requires that troops get out of their large, well-defended bases and live in the neighborhoods, building relationships with the local sheiks and political leaders. It requires, in other words, a profound sense about the human beings involved in the conflict.
And that is exactly the connection that General McMaster sees between the tank Battle of 73 Easting and his counterinsurgency campaign in Tal Afar. We can glimpse into General McMaster’s mind by quoting one of his favorite passages from the great military historian, John Keegan:
What battles have in common is human: the behavior of men struggling to reconcile their instinct for self-preservation, their sense of honour and the achievement of some aim over which other men are ready to kill them. The study of battle is therefore always a study of fear and usually of courage; always of leadership, usually of obedience; always of compulsion, sometime insubordination; always of anxiety, sometimes of elation or catharsis; always of 4 uncertainty and doubt, misinformation and misapprehension, usually also of faith and sometimes of vision… 12
General McMaster embraces the inevitable uncertainties of war even as he clings to the certainties of the human condition such as self-preservation, honor, and fear. By understanding the contours of the enemy’s history, mindset, and terrain, General McMaster can craft ever- shifting but effective strategies. He favors this kind of complex, but unquantifiable knowledge over the more conventional number-crunching and bullet-point approach that characterizes so many of the military mistakes he has chronicled. He put it well in a paper he wrote at the U.S. Army War College:
…PowerPoint slides seem to lull what otherwise might be (critically thinking) audiences into passivity. PowerPoint’s “bulletizing” of ideas leads to shallow analysis. Color graphics and contrived charts substitute for thought and logic, yet create a façade of analytical credibility. The briefing dynamic often betrays an unspoken agreement between presenter and audience to give a higher priority to getting through the slides than examining the ideas and proposals that those slides represent. 13 No wonder he implores his commanders to “visit the front leaders,” “avoid receiving guidance uncritically” and “keep asking basic questions about opportunities and threats.” Those are the sentiments of a critical thinker, thought leader, and progress maker. 14
Be wary of frozen, orthodox methods of thinking and quantitative measures. Why? Seeking out less tangible, ambiguous information allows you to better understand complex and shifting environments.
Seek out deep and broad understanding of the culture or industry in which you are working. This allows your followers to quickly adapt to new opportunities and threats. Act with confidence but avoid certainties. Why? Leaders should always be ready to revise plans as the situation warrants. They should seek to scrutinize decisions rather than validate them. Effective leaders may chuckle at the Queen’s declaration in Alice in Wonderland: “First the verdict, then the trial.” But they also heed Lewis Carroll’s implicit warning. 15
Phillip G. Clampitt, Hendrickson Professor of Business,
Robert J. DeKoch, President & COO, The Boldt Company
|Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers is an engaging and practical study of the key elements of leadership and what one must do to move an organization through change and to a more successful place. By way of excellent examples, reinforced by the real life experiences of the authors, one will be exposed to what it takes to lead and move an organization to a higher level of performance. The book is written in a way that makes it hard to put down and holds one’s interests. This should be required reading for anyone who is in a leadership position and searching for a comprehensive source and guide for success in the world of business or life in general.
Mark Gardner, President and CEO of Sappi Fine Papers North America
|Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers: Leadership for the 21st Century will quickly become required reading for all who aspire to organizational leadership. Phil Clampitt and Robert DeKoch have crafted an insightful and practical approach to leadership development. Packed with organizational examples from their extensive business experiences, the book draws from a broad array of literature in management, science, arts and technology to explore change, innovation and other strategic leadership issues. The book is hard to put down.
Dr. Angela Brenton, Dean of the College of Professional Studies at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock
|This work contains concepts and insights that advance the study and practice of leadership. It is to be celebrated equally for its humility as well as its assertions. Here there are no false claims of certainty, demonstrating that the authors practice what they preach. Instead of punctuating their work with a declarative statement of truth, they enjoin the reader to refine and explore. Yet just as we accept the caveat and invitation we should not overlook the helpful exploration that lies within this book. The authors are in search of a more sustainable form of leadership, a project that could be the next great platform of leadership theory.
Dr. George Reed, Professor of School of Leadership and Education Science at University of San Diego
|In Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers, Clampitt and DeKoch offer leaders insightful analyses of the key challenges associated with achieving tangible, sustainable progress in large, complex and often decentralized organizations. I found the chapters dealing with the Focused Flexibility Mind-Set and Enlarging the Circle of Engagement to offer particularly useful insights that I can apply in leading my firm.
The book is filled with rich and diverse business examples that challenge the reader to re-evaluate long-held “truths” about how to move an organization ahead, in spite of inevitable roadblocks along the way.
I found Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers to offer valuable recommendations and tools for addressing the quintessential leadership challenges: knowing when to invest precious resources in improving existing systems and methods, and when to take the organization into unchartered territory that offers promise, but no guarantees. Readers are led through a series of case studies and check lists that propel them along the path to achieving significant, sustainable change within their organizations.
Jeannette Terry, President and CEO of Tercon Consulting; Director of Americas for Global Leadership Alliance
|The increasing volatility of the business and political environments require new models to lead effectively in the 21st Century. Clampitt and DeKoch go far beyond the typical tomes on leadership by providing readers with an innovative model that challenges the conventional wisdom on leadership. Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers makes a compelling argument that effective leadership in the 21st Century is not a simple personality trait but a complex process of leading an organization through different phases of development and effectiveness. Clampitt and DeKoch enhance the reader’s understanding of their model by providing compelling examples of leaders who have transformed their organizations into highly effective, successful organizations; true Progress Makers.<
Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers is one of the few books on leadership that will provide insight and enjoyment to the highly placed executive as well as the student who is preparing to lead in the 21st century.
Rick Fantini, Executive Vice President for Appleton Coated
|Phil Clampitt’s and Bob DeKoch’s Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers is an insightful examination of balance and decision making translated into tangible action. They introduce the concepts of “Calculated Boldness” along with “Focused Flexibility.” Leaders must constantly balance exploring the future possibilities for their organization with spending time on refining current, known practices. And leaders must balance the fear of the unknown for their employees with the comfort and stability of current habits. Underpinning their theory are practical tools to help leaders make the right day-to-day choices and transform themselves into true “Progress Makers.” This is a must-read for navigating these extremely uncertain times and moving your company forward.
Terri Pawer, COO of Dental City
|Transforming Leaders into Progress Makers is an enjoyable journey throughout history -- from great leaders of the past to current day executives. The stories of success (Netflix) and failure (why Sears didn't become Amazon.com) lead you to reflect not only on the current structure of your organization, but the future and what other platforms might emerge. Progress Makers has important lessons for our times.
Michael Sadoff, Investment Advisor/Co-owner - Sadoff Investment Management LLC
The Progress Model and strategies we highlight in the book emerged from a synthesis of three different “pools of insight”: 1) leadership literature, 2) reflections on our personal leadership experiences, and 3) special research projects developed for this book. Numerous ideas worthy of discussion flowed from the pools of insight. We then filtered out the redundant and inconsequential, channeling the remaining into seven essential insights that form the basis for the second section of Progress Makers.
Two particular research studies deserve special mention: 1) uncertainty management, and 2) error management.
Uncertainty Management Study
1. Employees who work for organizations that embrace uncertainty tend to be:
- more satisfied with their job
- more committed to their organizations
- more likely to identify with the organization
- less cynical about organizational life
These tendencies occurred even when employees themselves did not fully embrace uncertainty.
2. Almost 65% of employees in the non-profit sector believe that they work in an organizational climate that suppresses uncertainty.
3. Almost 60% of employees in the information and technology sector believe they work in an organization that embraces uncertainty.
4. The number one ranked method organizations use to do a better job of embracing uncertainty was to "improve their communication practices.”
5. Over 50% of non-management employees believe that they work in an organizational climate that suppresses uncertainty, compared to 42% of employees in top management positions.
6. The age of employees does NOT appear to be related to their ability to embrace uncertainty.
7. Organizations that embrace uncertainty have three basic competencies: 1) they cultivate awareness of uncertainty, 2) they communicate about uncertainty, and 3) they catalyze action during uncertain times.
Note: These findings were based on a "snowball" sample of over 1,000 employees randomly selected from companies ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies.
Error Management Study
1. The three most frequent types of errors organizations recognize are:
- Customer service (rank 1)
- Quality of product or service (2)
- Hiring decisions (3)
2. The three least frequent types of errors organizations recognize are:
- Personnel promotions (rank 15)
- Management of change (16)
- Management of information (17)
3. There is a wide gap between the error management practices of well-led and less well-led organizations. Well-led organizations tend to promote more learning from errors than their counterparts.
Do Organizations Learn from Their Errors?
|Quality of product or service||71.3%||30.7%|
|Management of crises||63.6%||23.2%|
Note the survey and sample details below:
17 error types
About the Authors
|Phillip G. Clampitt (Ph.D., University of Kansas) is the Hendrickson Professor of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he teaches in the Information Sciences program. The Wall Street Journal and MIT Sloan Management Review recently highlighted his work on "Decision Downloading” which details how companies can effectively communicate decisions to those not involved in the decision-making process. He is the author of a Sage Publications best seller, Communicating for Managerial Effectiveness 4e and co-author of Embracing Uncertainty: The Essence of Leadership. Along with being on the editorial board of numerous professional journals, his work has been published in a variety of journals including the MIT Sloan Management Review, Academy of Management Executive, Management Communication Quarterly, Journal of Business Communication, Communication World, Journal of Broadcasting, Journal of Communication Management, Ivey Business Journal, and Journal of Change Management. In addition to many guest speaking opportunities in the U.S., he has also been invited to speak internationally at The University of Pisa, The University of Aberdeen, The University of Ulster, as well as to numerous multi-national businesses and professional organizations. As a principal in his firm, Metacomm, he has consulted on communication issues with a variety of organizations, such as PepsiCo, Manpower, Schneider National, American Medical Security, Dean Foods, The Boldt Company, Stora Enso, The U.S. Army War College, Appleton Papers, Foremost Farms, Thilmany Paper, Dental City, and Nokia.|
|Robert J. DeKoch received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from Lawrence University and his Masters Degree in Business Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. His career has spanned numerous manufacturing industries where he has held various management positions in operations, engineering, and research. He is currently the President and Chief Operating Officer for a major U.S. construction services firm, the Boldt Company. He is also Co-Chairman of the Board of New North, Inc., a regional economic development initiative in Northeastern Wisconsin. The initiative’s mission is to harness and promote the 18-county region's resources, talents and creativity for the purposes of sustaining and growing the regional economy. Throughout his career, Mr. DeKoch has focused on developing work environments for high involvement and continuous learning. He has instituted progressive communication processes in the workplace to promote understanding, focus and alignment. He strives to build organizational relationships that foster innovative thinking, recognition of achievement, and genuine teamwork. He co-authored the book Embracing Uncertainty: The Essence of Leadership and leadership articles in various journals.|