7 Management Strategies from War

August 11, 20149:24 pm699 views

Sometimes, management strategies and lessons emerge from the mists of history, giving contemporary managers and leaders a chance to learn from the wisdom of the ancients.

Napoleon Bonaparte created an empire stretching across continental Europe from 1804 to 1814. Before his exile, return and then ultimate defeat in 1815, Napoleon was a brilliant general who understood the dynamics of leading a large group to victory. He once said that “The moral is to the physical as three is to one”.

“He meant that his troops’ fighting spirit was crucial in the outcome of the battle. With motivated soldiers he could beat an army three times the size of his own,” explains Robert Greene in his book “The 33 Strategies of War”. Greene highlighted specific ways some of the world’s greatest generals — from Napoleon to Alexander the Great — managed their troops.

Aside from providing for spectacular military victories and glorious slaughter of the enemy, these same tactics can also be used to boost employee morale and maximise productivity, in a less bloodthirsty manner.

1) Unite People

Teams must be unified around a single cause that should be represented as progressive, fits the times, is on the side of the future and so, seems destined to succeed. Employees need to be reminded that they’re part of a company competing with others in a marketplace. With this in mind, they can be inspired to beat their competitors.

When fighting to conquer India, the British worked on a policy of “divide and rule”. Using this, they prevented their enemies from consolidating their strength, while remaining a cohesive and unified force able to overwhelm any opposition before them. In this way, the subcontinent was conquered and made the lynchpin of the British Empire of antiquity.

2) Keep Employees Busy

When soldiers are on the defensive and reacting, a number of things happen. They become reactive rather than proactive, waiting for the next strike and allowing enemies to size the initiative. Morale is reduced, with complacency and anxiety present. The same happens to a company that isn’t moving an initiative forward.

Napoleon was named commander of the French forces fighting the Austrians in Italy in April 1796, and he wasn’t welcomed by his troops. They found him too short, young and inexperienced to be a leader, already losing hope in their fight for the ideals of the French Revolution. After a few weeks of being unable to motivate them, Napoleon decided to propel them into action.

He brought them to a bridge he knew he could easily win and rode to the front of his soldiers. He gave a rousing speech and then propelled them forward to a relatively effortless victory. From that day, he had his soldiery engaged, committed and willing to submit to his leadership.

3) Ensure Satisfaction

You don’t need to spoil your workers, but you need to meet their basic needs. Otherwise, they’ll react to feeling exploited — behaving selfishly, becoming disengaged and drifting away. You may lose your best staff to competitor (or create competitors!) by focusing solely on company goals and not on employee welfare.

Napoleon knew that many of his troops were homesick and weary of battle. He made it a practice to develop a rapport with individual soldiers, such as through sharing personal stories. He saved his promotions of soldiers for moments of low morale. This communicated to his troops that he cared, as well as paid attention to the individual sacrifices amongst his warfighters.

See: When HR and Line Managers Fight

4) Leading by Example

The enthusiasm of even the most motivated workers will wane at some point. This requires that you remind them of your presence and support beside them. Military commanders often sleep in the mud beside their troops, or at least on the hard steel floors of a Land Rover, in order to remain on-site and to show their troops they endure the same hardship as them.

“In moments of panic, fatigue, or disorganisation, or when something out of the ordinary has to be demanded from them, the personal example of the commander works wonders,” wrote German field marshal Erwin Rommel, whose war tactics earned him the respect of  enemies like U.S. General George S. Patton and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

5) Appeals to Emotion

The best generals, like many war leaders, have a sense of drama. One method is to lower staff defences with a story or a joke, following by approaching them more directly with their tasks.

The great general, Hannibal of Carthage, was a skilled demagogue who knew how to make a passionate speech that would ignite and inspire his soldiers before a battle with the ancient Romans. But he also knew these speeches would would enjoy a greater impact were his soldiers relaxed in their downtime. To this end, Hannibal entertained his men with gladiator battles, and his jokes could get all of his soldiers laughing.

6) Moderate Punishment, Balance Rewards

Any military commander worth their salt knows their soldiers must compete to please them. They must be placed in a situation to struggle, in order to see less harshness and more kindness. This means that in the workplace you reprimand employees who don’t meet KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Excessive kindness — regardless of performance — will make staff take you for granted.

During the “Spring and Autumn” period of ancient China, the lord of Qi promoted Sima Rangju to general to defend his region from the armies of Jin and Yan. When two of the lord’s men disrespected Rangju in the field, Rangju executed one and killed the attendants of the other. His men were terrified.

However the general also proved to have a compassionate side, sharing food and supplies equally amongst troops and caring for the injured and weak. His men saw that he would reward those who followed him and punish those who did not. They went on to defeat Jin and Yan.

7) Build a Group Mythology

Soldiers who’ve campaigned together extensively forge a group mythos, based on past victories. Success alone helps bring groups together. However, symbols and slogans that fit the mythology of the organisation need to be created.This is to appeal to the desire for belonging amongst workers.

During the long campaigns of the Imperial Japanese Army, in the early stages of World War II, against the colonial Asia-Pacific territories of the European powers in World War II, they  endured months of tropical weather, scarce food and tropical diseases. The same happened to many soldiers of the US Marine Corps who fought the Japanese across the Pacific and endured the same conditions.

Those soldiers who survived felt they’d proved to themselves their elite status and the honour of their regiments. Each victory only served to confirm their belief in their eventual victory, improving morale and motivating them to fight and win, despite the adverse conditions they faced

This is an abridged version of content found on Business Insider, originally from “7 Management Strategies From Some of History’s Greatest Generals“. Questions or insights? Reach me at shiwen@hrinasia.com

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