Issue No. 345 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting says that when he faced Al Qaeda in Iraq, Gen. Stanley McChrystal quickly discerned that “efficiency was no longer enough” against the “networked mayhem of the 21st century.” And this reminder: click here to check out my 20 management buckets (core competencies).
“When musician Dave Carroll's guitar was broken by United Airlines baggage handlers, he spent nine months navigating the company's telephone-directory maze of customer service representatives to no avail, so he wrote a song called ‘United Breaks Guitars’ and posted the video on YouTube.
“Within one day the video had racked up 150,000 hits and Carroll received a phone call from an abashed director of customer solutions at United. Within three days the video had more than a million hits and United's stock price fell 10 percent, costing shareholders $180 million in value—600,000 times the value of the guitar.
“Within a week, the song peaked as the number one download on iTunes, and the company made a public show of donating $3,000 (the cost of a new guitar) to the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at Carroll’s request (the makers of his broken instrument, Taylor Guitars, sent him two for free after watching his video).”
Enjoy the 4-minute video here:
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. Army, Retired, shares this story on page 63 of his amazing/terrifying/trend-bending book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.
Amazing…because the airline customer service debacle is just one of dozens and dozens of memorable stories that you’ll talk about with your team for months and years to come. “United Breaks Guitars,” by the way, now has almost 16 million YouTube views, a website, a book, a case study, and more entertaining videos—all focused on “how social media has changed customer service forever.”
Terrifying...because Gen. McChrystal’s war on Al Qaeda (AQI) was unlike any the U.S. military had fought before. Any! He writes, “When we first established our Task Force headquarters at Balad [in Iraq], we hung maps on almost every wall. Maps are sacred to a soldier. In military headquarters, maps are mounted and maintained with almost religious reverence. A well-marked map can, at a glance, reveal the current friendly and enemy situations, as well as the plan of future operations. Orders can be conveyed using a marked map and a few terse words.”
But to out-think and out-gun Al Qaeda, everything had to change. “For most of history, war was about terrain, territory held, and geographic goals, and a map was the quintessential tool for seeing the problem and creating solutions,” the general notes. “But the maps in Balad could not depict a battlefield in which the enemy could be uploading video to an audience of millions from any house in any neighborhood, or driving a bomb around in any car on any street.”
Then… (and here’s my favorite metaphor for all organizations that must move from “complicated to complex”): “In place of maps, whiteboards began to appear in our headquarters. Soon they were everywhere. Standing around them, markers in hand, we thought out loud, diagramming what we knew, what we suspected, and what we did not know. We covered the bright white surfaces with multi-colored words and drawings, erased, and then covered again. We did not draw static geographical features; we drew mutable relationships—the connections between things rather than the things themselves.”
The lack of hierarchy and “adroit use of information technology” was a game-changer. McChrystal quotes military analyst John Arquilla, “We killed about 20 of Al Qaeda’s ‘number threes’ over the past decade, but everyone in a network is number three.”
The old organizational charts (“what we were designed for”) mandated new strategies and new solutions because of “what we were facing.” The chart on page 25 is terrifying—both for the U.S. military and for our outdated management approaches:
Trend-bending…because this book will rock your comfortable foundation. McChrystal writes, “When we realized that AQI was outrunning us, we did what most large organizations do when they find themselves falling behind the competition: we worked harder. We deployed more resources, we put more people to work, and we strove to create ever-greater efficiency within the existing operating model.
“Like obnoxious tourists trying to make themselves understood in a foreign country by continuing to speak their native tongue louder and louder, we were raising the volume to no good end.”
So as you and your team are facing uphill battles on multiple fronts and the myriad issues in the military acronym VUCA…
• and ambiguity
…what’s your plan?
McChrystal has some solutions for you. In his chapter, “Leading Like a Gardener,” the general messes with my favorite movie, The Hunt for Red October, starring Sean Connery as Capt. Marko Ramius, the cool-headed CEO of a new Soviet nuclear submarine.
McChrystal says we must reject our love affair with “heroic leaders.” Not easy for a four-star general, who led the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq during the Persian Gulf Wars, and retired in 2010 after serving as commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Confessing to his own struggles, he writes: “Although I recognized its necessity, the mental transition from heroic leader to humble gardener was not a comfortable one.”
In the chapter recap (three succinct bullet points summarize each chapter), he cautions, “The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing.”
Maybe my most compelling endorsement would be this: I’ll be at board planning retreat next month and all of us are reading Team of Teams and sharing the implications for our roles as board members, such as why moving from “complicated to complex” will require a “robust and resilient” response, per McChrystal. We’ll address this year’s book within the context of the last two books we’ve read:
• The Attacker's Advantage: Turning Uncertainty Into Breakthrough Opportunities, by Ram Charan
• Boards That Lead: When to Take Charge, When to Partner, and When to Stay Out of the Way, by Ram Charan, Dennis Carey and Michael Useem.
Sorry—but if you still want to be the leader of your organization (or department) next year, this is a must-read book this year.
To order from Amazon, click on the graphic below for Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) Gen. McChrystal said the “map was the quintessential tool for seeing the problem and creating solutions,” yet everything changed. What “quintessential tool for seeing the problem and creating solutions” are you still relying on—even though everything has changed?
2) Like “United Breaks Guitars,” you may be one video, one blog post, or one Yelp comment away from immense and harmful social media. What’s your crisis plan—and when is the last time you’ve reviewed it? Who has authority to respond when senior leaders are all on vacation? (Visit The Crisis Bucket.)
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Would “team” describe your culture—or are you a “team” in name only? Or are you a “team of teams,” as Gen. McChrystal describes the opportunity in his book (per above).
Here’s a question: “If your organization or department were on trial for having a ‘team-based culture’ (per Gen. McChrystal, Patrick Lencioni, and others), would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
For more resources from “The Team Bucket,” Chapter 9, in Mastering the Management Buckets, visit this webpage, plus check out another leadership/team book and my review of Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, by Simon Sinek. The review includes a powerful excerpt of a former Under Secretary of Defense’s speech—with his own humbling confession.
P.S. Read John’s recent blog on board governance: "Criteria for the Nominating Committee's Pipeline."
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