My all time favourite TV series is M*A*S*H, a comedy/drama centred around the doctors and nurses of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit during the Korean War. The series was so popular that it outlasted the duration of the 3 year war, spanning 11 seasons and 251 episodes.

The strong characterisation and story lines presented thought provoking themes that provide an ideal platform for lessons on life and leadership. Whether you are a fan of the show or not, I'm sure you will connect with my leadership insights from M*A*S*H.

LEADING FROM THE TRENCHES features bite-sized, candid insights that speak into the gritty space of leadership through the eyes of a fellow leader seeking to "lead with all diligence" (Romans 12:8).

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Get In The Game

Episode 65:  The Consultant

Trapper:   Major, I’m John McIntyre.  This is Hawkeye Pierce
Borelli:   [shaking hands] Anthony Borelli.  The rank is  
           honorary. I’m here as a civilian medical consultant.
Trapper:   You here to tell us everything you know?
Borelli: Should take about 10 minutes.  I’m looking forward to 
           meeting you at the lectures.
Trapper: We’re not coming.
Borelli:   There are some very fine doctors who’ve come a long way 
           to discuss new surgical techniques
Hawkeye: Major, we’re from a MASH unit three to four miles from 
           the front.
Trapper: You ever been to Korea doctor? [no] You’d love it.  
Hawkeye: I’ll tell you what doc.  You wanna really be useful over 
           here?  Stop hanging out in the cosy locker room in 
           Tokyo.  If you and your pals want to really get in the 
           game, come out to a MADH unit or an aid station.

Hawkeye and Trapper attend a medical conference where they meet a civilian consult.  After challenging him to leave the comfort of Tokyo, the consultant visits the 4077th and teaches the surgeons how to do an arterial transplant.

I must confess that I have a love hate relationship with consultants.  On the one hand, I have worked in roles where I have benefitted greatly from the wisdom of professionals and practitioners in their respective fields.  On the other hand, I have sat in training sessions with consultants who have lectured with knowledge divorced from actual experience.  The consultants who have the most credibility, in my estimation, and who have brought the most value to my leadership are those who have taught from applied knowledge rather than theoretical knowledge.  When knowledge and experience converge there is a powerful synergy of success and failure that provides a grounded platform for learning.  When I can look into the eyes of a consultant and know that they too have been in the game and have emerged out of the other side with well-informed insights, I am ready and eager to learn!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Letting Off Steam

Episode 64:  Bulletin Board

Trapper: [standing at the camp bulletin board] See this Henry?
Hawkeye: [reading notice] “First annual Polly Adler birthday 
         cookout, picnic and barbeque.  All proceeds to go to    
         Sister Theresa’s Korean orphans’ fund.”
Henry:   Forget it!
Hawkeye: Henry, you did everything you could.
Trapper: Yeah.  Come on Henry, loosen up.  You’ll have a ball.
Henry:   Yeah, that’s just it.  Everybody unwinds, has a good time, 
         then the war comes back and it’s a real belly drop.
Hawkeye: Look, we need this.  If we don’t go crazy once in a while 
         we’ll all go crazy.

A Shirley Temple movie, a sex lecture by Henry, and a cookout provide welcome, if hilarious, relief for the busy and stressed out personnel of the 4077.

Coming off the end of a very busy fundraising campaign in my leadership context, it has been good to just stop and unwind.  The past few weeks have demanded and deserved an ‘above and beyond’ effort to mobilize an army of volunteers to maximize collecting opportunities.  Leading any cause or campaign with a high level of energy for an extended period of time to get the job done requires the willingness to wind down and relax when the job is done. Leaders by nature have a bias towards action that is driven by a desire to succeed.  But if this intuitive drive is not accompanied by intentional down time, leaders will not have the physical and emotional reserves to sustain their success.  Even Jesus, Master leader and Messiah, knew when to withdraw from the crowd and coached His followers to do so as well, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31).  The demands and expectations of your leadership role will still be there when you return but you will be restored and ready to go another round.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Facing Your Fears

Episode 63:  Bombed

Margaret:       [Standing at the operating table] Major, your hands 
                are shaking.
Frank:          Well, it has nothing to do with the shelling.   
                It’s, uh…my sinus condition.
Henry:          If anybody’s scared, just let yourself be scared.  
                “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Eleanor 

The 4077th is pinned down by friendly fire with the compound being bombarded by shelling.  The doctors and nurses continue to operate while the OR is shaken by all the explosions around them, despite their very real fears.  

I can’t recall how many times as a leader when I have been afraid to make a difficult decision, have a crucial conversation or confront a challenging situation.  Yet, on every occasion despite my fears, or maybe because of them, a clear vision and strong convictions gave me the courage to face my fears.  Courageous leadership is not the absence of fear but the integrity to act when we are afraid. Fear reveals the true character of a leader and heightens a leaders senses to right size their fears so they can effectively engage that which challenges them.  In his book Chasing Daylight Erwin McManus writes, “I am convinced that when we face our fears, we look straight into the eyes of opportunity, and the courage we often need to engage our greatest challenge can be found only in the midst of engaging that challenge.”  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Common Denominators

Episode 62:  Private Charles Lamb

Hawkeye:    Dear Dad.  The wounded keep coming and coming.  The 
            latest batch were Greek soldiers.  Greece is one of the 
            17 UN countries fighting here in Korea.  Greeks, 
            Siamese, Ethiopians, Turks.  You name ‘em, we got ‘em. 
            The common denominator is blood.  It’s all red.  And 
            there’s an awful lot of it leaking out around here.

After the doctors patch up a Greek regiment at the 4077th, the Greek colonel invites the camp to celebrate their Greek Easter with them to express his gratitude for their care of his soldiers.  Radar is so upset that a live lamb is to be the main course, he organises a medical discharge for “Private Charles Lamb” to save the lambs life.

Leadership is no respecter of persons.  When it comes to the rigours and responsibilities that are a normal part of leading our ethnicity, culture, social and economic status, and gender don’t divide us but unite us. Leaders from all walks of life, all industries and all nations understand the challenges and conflicts associated with leadership.  They share common principles and a common purpose that enable them to connect at a level that those they lead are unable to.  This doesn’t make leaders better than others but enables them to recognize the common denominators that provide solidarity among leaders.  Whether I am speaking with a colleague in Indonesia or a business leader in my local community, we share a mutual understanding of leadership that transcends the different contexts in which we lead.  

Friday, October 21, 2016

Paralysed By Failure

Episode 61:  Mad Dogs And Servicemen

Frank:     That man is a psycho and for some perverted reason these two want to play games with him.
Hawkeye:    We are just following Sid Freedman’s advice.
Trapper:    You get a soldier who has hysterical paralysis and you treat him as though he is really paralysed and he’ll become sick just to rationalise the guilt of leaving his buddies at the front.
Hawkeye:    Sid feels if you take a patient like that back to a nice clean hospital it just deepens the guilt.  You send him home and it sets it in concrete. 
Trapper:    Yeah, he has been treating his patients as close to the front as possible with the idea that they will return to their unit.
Hawkeye:    Otherwise, they get sent stateside and one moment’s failure on the battlefield becomes a lifetime disability.

A GI is brought in by ambulance suffering from hysterical paralysis. Hawkeye attempts to treat him with a new method being used by Psychiatrist Sidney Freedman, against the protests of Frank Burns and Margaret Houlihan who question his condition.

I am sure most of us understand what it means ‘to be paralysed by fear’; to be so terrified of something, real or perceived, that you are unable to move.  Imagine being paralysed by failure; to be crippled by your mistakes to the point where you can no longer function.  This is a critical condition for any leader because failure comes with the territory! Identifying “failure as an indispensable, irreplaceable part of learning and growth,” John Ortberg stresses “failure does not shape you; the way you respond to failure shapes you.”  So, you can choose to allow failure to paralyse you or propel you towards new discoveries.  Don’t allow a moment of failure become a lifetime of disability.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Loyal To A Fault

Episode 60:  A Full Rich Day

Hawkeye:   Smithy, I’m going to have to go serious on you about this thing.  We have a different perspective on the war as a whole than I think is possible for you.  To a line officer with 30-40 guys lives depending upon him, and your life depending upon them; the war is not some big geo-political conflict between nations and ideologies.  It’s not just China and America sticking their tongues out at each other.  To you there’s maybe 30-40 guys in that high grass out there trying to kill me and my 30-40 guys.  It’s that concentrated.  To you that’s the entire war…But it’s something else in our little heaven.  To us the war is trying very hard to control chaos.  We are up to our bottoms in other people’s bottoms here.  We can’t afford the same kind of fierce personal loyalties that you and Sergeant Brian feel for each other.  Can you understand that?...It’s the size of the wound, who’s bleeding the most buckets who we give priority to.  It’s the only place I know that being the worst is the best.

Hawkeye records a message to his dad about the events of a very eventful day.  Among the variety of casualties presenting to the 4077th is an infantry soldier who demands the doctors treat his friend first by threatening them at gunpoint.

While loyalty to a leader or a team is a highly valued virtue in any organisation, there are times when blind loyalty can distort our view of reality and become a liability.  I’ve worked in teams where loyalty to long standing relationships has compromised right decisions or covered-up wrong behaviour.  In both cases truth and integrity became casualties of blind loyalty.  In contrast, John Maxwell says “loyalty means giving me an honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not.”  From this position loyalty becomes more about faithfulness than friendship and the priority of leadership stays focused on the grander vision rather than allowing personal agendas making us vulnerable to being loyal to a fault.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Keep Them Engaged

Episode 59:  Adam’s Rib

Hawkeye:    I didn’t hear you say that.  Because it isn’t possible.  It’s inhuman to serve the same food day after day.  The Geneva Convention prohibits the killing of our taste buds.  I simply cannot eat the same food every day.  Fish, liver, day after day.  I’ve eaten a river of liver and an ocean of fish.  I’ve eaten so much fish I’m ready to grow gills.  I’ve eaten so much liver I can only make love if I’m covered in bacon and onions.  Are we going to stand for this?!  Are we going to let them do this to us?!  No, I say, NO!!  We’re not going to eat this drab anymore!  We want something else!

Hawkeye is enraged by being served the same food week after week and demands for something different.  His desire for a change inspires him to place a takeout order for spareribs from Chicago all the way to Korea.

As a preacher, week after week I have the responsibility to prepare and deliver messages that will inspire and inform a diverse group of people how to integrate biblical truth with everyday life.  In order to keep my congregation interested my content must be relevant and my delivery engaging, otherwise they will zone out or look elsewhere.  Whether you are a teacher or preacher, coach or mentor, facilitator or consultant, the creative tension between content and delivery is the space that must be managed by all effective communicators.  In my experience, great messages can be equally compromised if the speaker is all charisma with little content or has great content without any passion.  In an age of sensory overload our audience won’t tolerate being anaesthetized by either. So be well prepared, stay energized and keep them engaged.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Professional Partnerships

Episode 58:  There Is Nothing Like A Nurse

Trapper:   [Tension in the OR without the nurses] My kingdom for a  nurse!
Radar:     I’m doing my best.
Trapper:   Radar, if you don’t start handing me the instruments in  the right way, I’m going to cut you off at the knees.
Henry:     Klinger, you’re standing in my light.
Klinger:   Whatever I do is no good!
Hawkeye:   Let’s keep those sponges coming Father, nurse is also a  verb.

The threat of an enemy invasion leads to the evacuation of all the nurses from the 4077.  Camp morale is low and the tensions in O.R. high as the doctors try to cope without the nurse’s expertise and companionship.

Throughout 20 years of leadership serving alongside my wife we have developed a professional partnership in our ministry.  Together we make a great team that intuitively complements each other’s gifts and abilities.  However, when one of us is missing for any length of time the other is left second guessing counter-intuitive roles that fall outside our normal areas of responsibility.  If there is one thing we have learned about leadership, it is that it is not a solo activity.  We need each other.  We need competent people with complementary gifts to partner in pursuing a shared vision and common purpose.  This is true for any team and leadership context. Sue Mallory advocates this strongly:  “A team is a group of uniquely gifted players with a common purpose. Each player has a responsibility and is given the authority to carry it out. As team members they are fully and jointly accountable to one another and to the team’s results.”

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Managing Demands Of Leadership

Episode 57:  Alcoholics Unanimous

Frank Burns:   There’s just no question, you’re alcoholics!  You              drink constantly.
Hawkeye:       Alright, we drink.  We drink so we can get through            these lousy, stinking 48 hour days.
Trapper:       We’re cold, filthy, lonely.
Hawkeye:       Scared, bored, tired!

Acting commanding officer, Frank Burns, declares prohibition at the 4077th in response to the growing alcohol use in camp.  His dismantling of the ‘still’ and his one man campaign to outlaw alcohol causes havoc among the personnel as they try anything to sneak a drink.

How do you cope with the demands of leadership?  For some, a helpful escape comes in the form of a good book or watching a favourite movie.  For others, engaging in exercise and physical activity relieves the tension.  However, statistically it is well documented that many seek relief from the stress and demands of leadership through the consumption of alcohol.  While this may bring temporary relief, health experts believe that alcohol can actually exacerbate stress and diminish long term capacity to cope under pressure.  In the context of leadership this can be dangerous!  Trying to deal with the stressors that come with the territory through any substance use not only impacts our ability to personally cope with the challenges but risks our capacity to professionally lead others through the same challenges.  Alcohol may ‘mask’ the reality but cannot ‘mitigate’ the responsibilities of leadership.  Leaders must build healthy strategies and networks to effectively ‘manage’ this space.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Change Of Calling?

Episode 56:  Life With Father

Father:    [Reading a letter from his sister] Kathy, Kathy, Kathy.                    How could you think of such a thing?
Henry:     [Bursting into Father Mulcahy’s tent] Father, I’ve got                    to talk to you about my wife.
Father:     My sister wants to leave the order…She’s such a        
            fantastic nun. I’d stack her up against any nun in the  
            business…God smiled on her from the start. Imagine a 
            basketball scholarship at the Holy Name Academy. She’s 
            been teaching. She loves children. Now she thinks she 
            might like one of her own…Now she wants my approval. I 
            don’t know what to tell her. I don’t know what to say.

Father Mulcahy is busy attending to the diverse spiritual needs of different faiths in the camp at the same time trying to come to terms with his sisters desire to leave the ministry.  While performing a circumcision on a Jewish baby he realises that the joy of motherhood is just as legitimate a calling for his sister.

There exists within my spirit a deep tension every time I hear about one of my colleagues leaving the ministry!  I cannot hide my disappointment in losing godly and competent leaders who exchange their calling or vocation for another direction.  Are they right or are they wrong?  That is not mine to judge!  My disappointment lies in the loss of good leaders who have the capacity to lead great change from within our organisation.  While there are many reasons why people change career paths or even pursue their calling through alternative pathways, I wonder how the following questions are reconciled:  Is a calling conditional upon circumstances?  Should our own purposes supersede a divine purpose?  When is it right to step outside of a covenant relationship?  In the context of Christian leadership Reggie McNeal asserts, “Christian leaders certain of their call allow it to become the centre of gravity for their life experiences.”  Whether your calling is secular or sacred it needs to be grounded upon a deep conviction that will remain steadfast through trials and resistant to the allure of other offers.