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Enhancing Organizational Performance

Archive for August 2013

Physical Diplomacy and Leadership

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“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”  Albert Einstein

I was on a flight home, returning from a business trip to Israel. The flight was full and in the row in front of me were three seats. In the window and aisle seats were two young women who were clearly returning from a summer holiday. The middle seat between them was open until just before the door of the airplane closed. Then a Haredi man, an ultra-orthodox Jew with beard, traditional black hat with a wide brim, white shirt and black coat sat down between them. He became agitated right away and started yelling at the flight attendants that there was no way he could sit between these two young women. (Presumably, 1. he found being close to two young women objectionable as the Haredi practice a fair amount of segregation of the sexes and 2. the young women were in tank tops and shorts which likely he found to be immodest). The flight attendants and finally the cabin manager worked to find him an alternative seat where he could feel comfortable. They apparently did not work fast enough for him and he continued to carry on, yelling loudly that he would never fly the airline again. (I had an urge to tell him which airline he could fly that practices gender segregation). The cabin crew really gave it their best effort and eventually they found him an alternative seat.

I had a sense though that something was amiss. The airline worked to resolve this man’s difficulty with his seat location as he carried on. Meanwhile no attention was paid to the two young women who were seated on either side of him. I could not help thinking about who the victims of this situation were. The young women had done nothing wrong. They were traveling on a public airline, open to all. And yet they were subjected to the ranting of a person who considered them to be objectionable. In my eyes of course, they were not objectionable, they were normal. No one apologized to them for being subjected to this behavior. No one asked them if they were OK, either during or after the incident. It was as though the airline would cater only to the whims of the noisy fringe, to make sure they were not offended, but did not consider that the mainstream young women were also victims in this case, being subjected to exceeding rude behavior. Who was right? Who was wrong?

And that got me thinking about points of view.

In any war, do you think there is an army, or a leader that doesn’t think they are on the “right” side? And that their enemy is not only wrong, but generally thought of or defined for the general population as evil? We look at a conflict situation and tend to be drawn to thinking about it simplistically as “good” vs. “evil”. Which side is good, which side bad? Often it is just not that simple. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of truly evil people out there. In a war it is possible that one truly evil group is warring against another truly evil group, and the true victims are the civilian innocents. There could be two groups warring against each other, with each side being equally unpalatable to another third group, a group which is wondering which side to support. Or there could be two groups warring against each other, both with legitimate points of view, with both sides being factually correct on certain points, and once again civilian innocents suffer the most.

In general, war is nothing more than physical politics. If I cannot convince you to come around to my point of view verbally, perhaps I can do it with physical force. When diplomacy falls short and doesn’t reach a workable compromise for the aggrieved parties, then war becomes an alternative to dialog with bullets, missiles, fighter jets, armies and aircraft carriers replacing dialog as persuasive forces. War isn’t the failure of politics; it is just a different form of politics.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Sun Tzu

There has been an ongoing debate in the American military about what military leaders should be trained upon. What should be emphasized and what can be skimmed over given a limited time budget. Thomas Ricks, in The Generals, contrasts military education vs. military training. Military training is often focused on tactics. For instance, how you should deploy your troops, the effective use of artillery in support of your ground forces, keeping supply lines open, etc. Military training is often focused on the short to medium term – how to win the battles and the war. Military education is often focused on strategy. What are we trying to achieve? Who is the enemy? What are they trying to achieve? What are the best methods we can deploy to achieve our objectives? You could say that military education is focused upon how to win the peace. Ricks blasts the USA’s political and military leaders for knowing for instance, how to win the war in Iraq but then having no plan or idea what to do to stabilize the country afterwards – how to create and win the peace. He partly blames the emphasis on tactical training and the lack of emphasis on strategic education.

“It is not enough to win a war; it is more important to organize the peace.” Aristotle

This kind of dichotomy, education vs. training, strategy vs. tactics, and the debate about what to emphasize is not all that different from an area that private sector organizations struggle with as well. Organization Vitality is when organizations strike the necessary balances that allow them to thrive in varied, often turbulent environments. In the private sector, organization vitality comes about when organizations strike the right balance between maximizing current performance (winning the battles with the right tactics) and maximizing future performance (winning the long-term peace with the right strategy). In addition, it has been shown that agility, being able to accomplish things quickly and to modify policy and practice quickly as needed, as well as resiliency, being able to consistently rise to the challenges that every organization continually faces are critical to achieving organization vitality.

There has been much research focused on the methods that an organization can employ to maximize its current performance and future potential. For instance, those sitting at the top of the house need to relentlessly focus on both topics simultaneously, while those lower down should apply their efforts to one or the other, but will often fail if they attempt to do both. You don’t ask the manager of an automobile manufacturing plant to design next year’s model. You ask that person to maximize production efficiency and quality on the current model being assembled on the production line.

Sitting across the aisle from me on the plane were two others, apparently brothers, also Haredi, dressed in their traditional garb which dates to the mid-1800’s. They seemed somewhat embarrassed by the behavior of the rude man. In talking to each other they needed to rationalize why he would act the way he did. “Perhaps he is exceedingly religious”, one of them commented. Their conversation continued and turned to discussing the flight attendants. (I was not intentionally listening, they were just talking loudly). “Why do you suppose a person would continually travel around the world, and spend so little time at home”, one asked the other. “I don’t know”, said the other, “some people are just weird”.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  Dwight Eisenhower

© 2013 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman.  All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

August 13, 2013 at 2:25 pm

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