Be the change you wish to see in the world?
Hans Christian Anderson
“The emperor is naked”
During WW2 my mother served in the ATS. At one point she was stationed at Badgeworth Court. Her team got balled out by a general for failing to respond to an alarm. My mother stood front and centre and told the general the alarm could not be heard in the women’s quarters. He balled her out for criticising an officer. She held her ground as she knew one day lives would depend on that alarm.
Two weeks later the alarm was fixed and she was transferred to Officer Training School. A daughter of a career army man she knew how important accurate intelligence is. She raised me on Scipio Africanus the terrain master and military genius and on Wellington’s campaigns.
When lives are at stake accurate intelligence on the terrain and a response that is not bluster and denial is absolutely vital. Oh and the General? He was quietly moved to a less critical position where lives were less affected by his decisions.
Speaking up and telling the truth is not divisive but vital, and doubly so when lives are at stake.
Intelligence determines the outcome
There is a tradition that the British army is always equipped to fight the last war. And another tradition that our tradition of muddle through and make do and mend, as exemplified in Spitfire production is the key to our success.
However willing, the popular, or the troops, if this is founded on a wrong understanding of what needs to be done them muddling through just turns into a muddle. Nostalgia and sentiment is no substitute for a plan.
The tendency towards ‘group think’ and making decisions based on ideology or even unconscious bias can be fatal to any company, or general, or individual. Rarely more so than now. Yet there is a natural tendency within groups to want to ‘unite’ behind the leader and push criticism and dissent into the future. Like my mother’s general all those years ago – the ego and conformity become more important than reality.
Speak truth to power
Accurate feedback and intelligence are the very basis of a successful campaign. Truth is often the first casualty war, but without it, nothing useful can be done.
Mavericks have a higher than average regard for truth and accuracy, preferring to analyse data and arrive at conclusions rather than going with the ideas that are popular or flattering to whoever is in charge. Our unique ability to recognise patterns in data and to speak out is vital.
Many intelligence services hire data analysts with these skills particularly in mind.
Course correction and improvement comes as a result of feedback and information on what is not working. The wisest leader knows this. It is only the ego that is bruised when the feedback shows the results are not what is wanted.
Dishonesty is disloyalty
In an age where information is the most vital ingredient of every successful campaign from politics, to healthcare, to warfare, learning how to share information and how to tolerate criticism of methods that do not generate the required results, is a key leadership skill.
It is the toadying courtier who lets the Emperor walk naked through the streets who is truly disloyal. Our mission as Mavericks is not to discomfit the Emperor but to enable him to wake from his error and clothe himself and everyone else too. It has never been more vital to provide feedback and course correction than it is today.
How can we distinguish information from personal criticism?
We can do a lot to couch our feedback in terms of relevance to the desired results and avoiding personal attacks or accusations of stupidity. It has been my observation that no man gets cleverer for being told he is stupid.
But ultimately we have to work round and through people who simply demand silence and compliance and will not allow course correcting data to be shared. Today, the stakes are far too high for compliance and silence.
What are we waiting for?
We have to find a way to share what we know to help create a better plan. And we have to take action to protect ourselves, our families, our businesses and our communities in an appropriate way. We can’t sit around waiting for someone to take care of it all.
As Gandhi once said – “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. It is time to manifest a data led compassionate leadership, and show the way.