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).

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Who's My Neighbour?

Episode 32:  The Trial Of Henry Blake

Meg:       General, this is a sample of Henry Blake’s work…This girl, and dozens like her, will have healthy babies because of Henry Blake.  Now, I operate a clinic.  And when someone’s sick I don’t ask about their politics.  Henry Blake is the only man who’s ever helped me.  He’s a caring, decent man, which is more than I can say about any of you high-priced bellhops!

Henry:      May I say something, General?  Before Meg Cratty set up shop, seven outta ten babies born to the hill people never made it past the first few days.  My giving her penicillin and whatever just made her job a little easier.  No money changed hands, and I didn’t deprive our own wounded kids of one thing.  I’m guilty.  That’s my explanation.  So you can hang my butt from a flagpole!

Henry Blake is accused of being unfit for command by Frank and Margaret and is called to regimental headquarters to answer a series of charges, including giving aid and comfort to the enemy.  Hawkeye and Trapper bring to the trial the people that Henry helped with medical aid. 

There is a story told by Jesus about a man who was beaten and robbed on the highway.  Three people passed by this man, but the only one who stopped to help him was culturally considered to be his enemy.  This twist in the story was a stumbling block to the religious leaders in the audience who were consumed by their own self-righteousness.  Whatever our context of leadership, there is a common humanity that transcends religious, cultural, political and economic boundaries.  We must guard our hearts against anything that would compromise human compassion for competitive advantage or corporate elitism.  The ability to care beyond boundaries is a core character quality essential to effective leadership.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Racial Division

Episode 31:  L.I.P.(Local Indigenous Personnel)

Hawkeye:    Fact one – Phil loves Kim and Kim loves Phil, so much so they created fact two – a baby. Phil is being shipped home and wants to take his wife and baby.  Pretty complicated, huh?
Nurse:     And so you had to arrange for a marriage between one of our guys and a gook.
Hawkeye:    What are you trying to tell me?  You don’t care for LIP’s?
Nurse:      Not when they marry our people.
Hawkeye:   “Our people”? Since I’m one of them, who are ”we”?
Nurse:      Whites, silly.
Hawkeye:    Oh, us. Of course. You’re built lieutenant.  You’ve got a body I’d like to take a lifetime getting to know….But somewhere in that luscious chemistry are some pretty unappetising ideas.  I don’t think I can take the mix.  Goodbye Lieutenant Hoffman.

Hawkeye tries to help an enlisted man who wants to marry a Korean local girl who is the mother of his child.  In the process he is confronted by the red tape of the Army and the racist attitudes of a nurse he is trying to get to know.

In an age when political correctness and tolerance are the prevailing ideologies, you would think that colour of skin would no longer be a barrier in social circles or the workplace.  If only that was true!  I have recently interacted with professionals who are new arrivals to Australia from Iran and India who cannot find employment because of their ethnicity. Racial and religious differences continue to divide a society that prides itself on the value of ‘fair go.’  Leaders must face the challenge of digging beneath the facade of tolerance to create an environment of genuine acceptance.  “We can get the new world we want, if we want it enough to abandon our prejudices, every day, everywhere. We can build this world if we practice now what we said we were fighting for” (John Maxwell).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Discovering Your Purpose

Episode 30:  Kim

Trapper:  Maybe this is why I was sent to Korea.
Hawkeye:   Maybe, but I wouldn’t underestimate your draft board.
Trapper:   Up until now I felt my being here was senseless. For  

           the first time I think I have a real reason for being            here.

A wounded Korean boy who was brought to the 4077 was thought to be an orphan, prompting Trapper to write to his wife at home about adopting him.  After receiving positive news from home, the mother of the boy turns up looking for her son. 

For most of my life I have been driven by a clear purpose which has come from a strong calling from a young age.  Yet, there was a season in my life before that calling became a reality when I found myself in an interim job where I lacked any real sense of purpose.  The difference between then and now is that without purpose I was unmotivated and lacked incentive, but with purpose I am highly motivated and have a clear vision for the future.  I believe John Maxwell is right when he says, “Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life.”  Discovering your vocation or mission is like having the fuel that drives an engine. Purpose gives you focus, energy and passion to pursue your particular calling, leading to a life of meaning and fulfillment.  Leaders with purpose build successful teams by inspiring those they lead to discover and fulfill their purpose also.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bias Toward Action

Episode 29:  Dr Pierce And Mr Hyde

Henry:     Your cuckoo stunts…Taking a general for a ride to North Korea in a latrine.  McIntyre, what makes him do these things?

Trapper:    He’s just unstable.  He took this weird oath as a young man never to stand around and watch people die.

Henry:      I took the same oath, pal.  I didn’t ask to be here.

Trapper:    Me neither.  I guess that makes about 80,000 of us. 

After three straight days of surgery, Hawkeye, asleep on his feet, tries to figure out why they are there in Korea.  He attends Frank’s orientation lecture and takes him literally when he suggests that North Korea wants American plumbing, leading to a comedy of events that results in General Clayton being taken for a ride in a latrine in an attempt to try and stop the war.

By nature, leaders are hard-wired with a “bias toward action” (Bill Hybels).  They are action oriented people who are discontent with the status quo and are driven towards solving problems and fulfilling a purpose.  A leader will never settle for a “that’s just the way things are” response to issues, but will always seek to understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’.  While this leadership trait will often step on toes and get leaders into trouble, it is this characteristic that facilitates change and gets things done.  At the end of one of my favourite movies The American President, starring Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd, the President makes a passionate plea at a press conference that captures this bias toward action; “We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.”  Leaders don’t stand around and wonder why things happen, but resolutely work towards making things happen!

Thursday, December 6, 2012


Episode 28:  For The Good Of The Outfit

Henry:      This poop sheet’s just come in from General Clayton’s office down in Seoul.  The army has started rebuilding Taidong.  It’s going to be better than it ever was.  All new housing, a temple, a town hall with inside toilets, a shopping centre and they’re getting the first soft-ice-cream stand in all of East Asia.
Hawkeye:   That’s terrific.  I’m glad.  Now, what about rebuilding the truth?  This is compensation.  Where’s their admission of responsibility?
Henry:      Well, soft ice-cream is a pretty good admission!

Hawkeye and Trapper discover that a local village was accidentally shelled by the US, while operating on South Korean wounded.  As they try to get the Army to be accountable for their actions, they are confronted by a cover-up and are urged to keep quiet about the incident.

There is much discussion about the difference between responsibility and accountability and whether or not they are interchangeable terms. As a father of twins, I see responsibility and accountability as being like non-identical twins, similar in nature, but unique in personality. While they are closely related, they are two distinct expressions of the same paradigm with one fulfilling the other. To accept responsibility without any accountability is like making a commitment or confession without any consequences.  You could say that accountability is responsibility with skin on. Organisations or leaders who avoid accountability are diminishing the value of responsibility and vice versa.  When I accept responsibility for a task, I expect to be accountable for that task and when I admit responsibility for a failure, I expect to be accountable for that failure.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Typical Week

Episode 27:  Radar’s Report

Henry:      You never let me read anything I’m signing. Sometimes I get the feeling you’re trying to hide the war from me Radar.
Radar:      No, Sir, no… 
Henry:    I’ll just be the judge of what’s here.  “Chinese Communist prisoner berserk in OR, wounds Lieutenant Erika Johnson and contaminated one surgical case.  Psycho examination…Corporal Klinger…Lieutenant Johnson reassigned, Tokyo.  Dr. McIntyre lost patient due to complications, OR incident.  Wounded Chinese prisoner recovering.”  Well, every week can’t be exciting.

Radar completes his weekly report, highlighting the unpredictable nature of the war through the incidental events that impacts the lives of the 4077 personnel.  A typical week becomes anything but typical through a series of unrelated, extra-ordinary events.

Anybody who has led for any length of time will know that there rarely is a “typical” week.  While there are routines and responsibilities that may be predictable, the very nature of life is that it is filled with unpredictability.  Systems can be managed, programs planned, but people are complex beings who are subject to the ebb and flow of life.  Despite our best planning, scheduling or organization, people’s lives get in the way.  But, because people matter, and are to be led, not managed, leaders need to exercise flexible and responsive leadership.  Life is fluid, so it stands to reason that leadership should also be fluid.  It has been my experience, even with a type-A personality, that this sort of fluid leadership equips me to more effectively respond to people’s needs and circumstances that make most weeks far from typical.