Last Tuesday night, General Petraeus addressed 1500 people at the Fairmont Hotel Chicago. While most topics covered the what, when, how in Iraq and Afghanistan, the General also spoke on Strategic Leadership valid in any situation, from a man who knows the worst case scenarios cold.
While we may not do justice to the entirety of his speech, his key points, paraphrased, were these: 1) First, one has to have the right ideas — with out the right idea, all else is irrelevant. For Petraeus, this meant starting with the right inputs to get the right outputs. Makes sense. If one doesn’t have the right information, education, skills and team, one ends up with wrong output for the wrong job. 2) Second, one needs to communicate the right idea down the chain of command. For us in the private sector this mean communicating the ideas all the way through the organization so everyone has an understanding of what to do and its relative importance. 3) Once everyone’s on the same page, the next step is overseeing correct implementation without micro managing. Illustrating this point, he used what we’ll call the “Get down the road” management technique. He saw management’s responsibility as showing people the path, the direction, then drawing the right and left hand lines and telling the team to “get down the road”. Of course, if they go outside the lines, its managements’ job to help get the crew back on the right path, which is why the Army shares best practices (and worst practices, actually) for all of their initiatives. The last slide of the evening he showed us his Iraq ‘dashboard’: number of bombs found, attacks, and casualties since the beginning of the war. The US Military’s goal was to minimize the violence to peace time standards so that mundane activities could be conducted. What’s notable is the General could explain the weekly rise and fall of violence all along — at any moment, he can see how many acts of violence happened today, yesterday, this week or for any given period since the start of the Iraq and Afghan Wars. Scary, and sad, but effective, and, once in war, a smart, quant tool to have. As in all things, if one doesn’t have a metric, one has no sense of a goal. This commitment to strategic leadership has given him the ability to get the right ideas, implement them and adjust when necessary. Not a bad lesson in getting things done from a man who has to bring peace, defeat an insurgency and build a country while getting shot at all the time. Makes your job look easy, right?