Power Sheet – August 13, 2015
Today’s news peg is purely personal, and I mention it only to make a larger point. I’m in Washington and in a few hours will be in a K Street conference room talking with 14 U.S. military officers. They’re this year’s class in the Secretary of Defense Corporate Fellows Program, which means each of them is about to spend 11 months inside a big company—Amazon, Boeing, Caterpillar, and Deutsche Bank are a few. Why? To learn.
All these officers are at about the same stage in their careers: lieutenant colonels or colonels in the Army, Air Force, and Marines; captains or commanders in the Navy. They’ve been chosen in part because each has shown potential to become a general or admiral. I’ve spoken to the new class every year for the past several years, and every time I am bowled over by how sharp, knowledgeable, insightful, and candid these officers are. In my usual world of corporate executives, every one of them would be a star.
And then I’m bowled over again when I reflect on what they’re doing. Remember that the American public has for years deemed the military the most trusted institution in the country, above the Supreme Court, organized religion, or anything else. Nonetheless, these high-performing officers are assigned to learn from companies how to make the military better.
The Pentagon makes a strong case for learning from business. Successful companies focus on value, while the Department of Defense focuses on cost. Companies incentivize efficiency, while the DoD incentivizes obligating all of this year’s budget before year-end. Companies take risks to innovate, while the DoD, despite developing some historic innovations, is mostly slow, risk-averse, and reactive.
Most strikingly, the Pentagon even believes it can learn about leadership development from companies. Like many others, I’d say today’s military is extraordinarily adept at developing leaders. Yet here too, the DoD has a point. Service members are diverse demographically but not sufficiently diverse in thought or background. They’re promoted and paid more on the basis of time served, not enough on performance. The culture, though transformed in recent decades, still rewards process too much, problem-solving not enough.
How many companies that you know would send a group of high-potential executives away from the organization for a year to learn from a completely different type of institution? How many would, while knowing they were the most trusted organization in the country, analyze their deficiencies in detail and seek help elsewhere?
I’ve given up trying to praise the military or the officers when I talk with them. They’re not interested. They are there to learn. Their determination to do that, institutionally and individually, is what we should learn from them.
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|Produced by Ryan Derousseau|