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, November 13, 2013

Beyond The Routine

Episode 53:  O.R.

Hawkeye:    I can tell the onset of Arthritis.
Henry:      It’s just fatigue, it comes and goes.
Hawkeye:    Henry, this could be your ticket home…
Henry:      Pierce, I’ll level with you.  I’ve got a great practice 
            back home.  They all come to see me.  I’ll bet there’s  
            no one in Bloomington, Illinois, that I haven’t seen 
            naked.  But it’s routine.
Hawkeye:    Cookbook medicine. 
Henry:      Yeah.  But this place, this place, which has all the 
           attraction of a lanced boil, has given me the opportunity to do more doctoring than I can do in a lifetime back in the world.

A busy day in the O.R. reveals the pressures and stresses of the medical staff who are overworked and have to make difficult decisions in difficult circumstances. 

One of the many things I love about my role as a Salvation Army Officer is that no day is the same and very few are predictable.  On any given day I can be sharing my faith, coaching leaders, preparing for public ministry, visiting the sick, responding to one crisis or another, supporting vulnerable people, managing programs, shuffling paperwork or leading a service.  Leading in a frontline mission context, while often demanding, is an exhilarating fulfillment of what I was called and trained to do.  While leadership that is bound by routine can be draining or even depressing, leadership that breaks out of the ordinary can be energizing and empowering, no matter how  challenging the context.  The key to turning the routine into the remarkable is to look for the extraordinary in the ordinary and embrace every moment as an opportunity.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Professional Reputation

Episode 52:  Iron Guts Kelly

Colonel:    Is the General ill?
Trapper:    He’s a little past ill.
Hawkeye:    He’s dead.
Colonel:    He was fine a little while ago.  What happened?
Trapper:    Myocardial infarction….
Colonel:    He died in action at the front.  Leading his troops 
            against overwhelming odds, with shells bursting all 
            around him, until that one shell with his name on it  
            caught up with him.  That’s how General “Iron Guts”  
            Kelly died….I got a pretty good idea how he really 
            went.  It’s got to appear as though he died more  
            meaningfully.  There’s a Zen saying:  Just as a clay   
            jar will sooner or later crumble while being lowered  
            into a well, so old generals must eventually perish in  
            battle.  All you have to do is sign the death 
            certificate.  I’ll fill in the details….History demands 
            that the general die a glorious death.

When General Iron Guts Kelly visits the 4077 and dies in Major Houlihan’s tent, his aid creates a cover story to hide the real cause of death and contrive a more heroic death for the General by organising for his body to be driven to a front line battle.

How much is your reputation worth?  What would you do to protect it?  What values would you compromise to maintain a professional image?  These are challenging questions for leaders and organisations who want to protect their personal or corporate brand.  Make no mistake, reputation is important, but is it important enough to pursue at the expense of core values and character?  Consider these notable quotes that place a good reputation in the right context of sound character:  “Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” (Abraham Lincoln); “The way to gain good reputation is to endeavour to be what you desire to appear.” (Socrates); “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” (John Wooden).  Character trumps reputation every time!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Second In Charge

Episode 51:  Officer Of The Day

Radar:      Company…order arms!  Company’s arms are ordered, sir.
Frank:    Now then, during Colonel Blake’s absence, I will act in his capacity.  So, if there are any problems, you may bring them to me or to our fine adjutant here, Major Houlihan.  Talking to the major is the same as talking to me since we are intimate with each other at all times.

In Henry Blake’s absence, Frank is acting Commanding Officer and Hawkeye is rostered as Officer of the Day.  During their temporary command, Colonel Flagg from Army Intelligence brings in a prisoner for treatment and Klinger is caught several times trying a number of unsuccessful attempts at desertion.

I learned a valuable lesson a number of years ago while catching up with our leadership team upon my return from holidays.   A significant issue arose in my absence that required immediate attention and a decision was made that caused unintended consequences.  It would have been easy to criticize the decision, but I realized in the moment that it was more important for me and the team to affirm the process leading to the decision and their willingness to lead in my absence.  When authority is delegated it needs to be backed if we are serious about empowering leaders, because “Leadership is not just what happens when you’re there; it’s what happens when you’re not there” (Ken Blanchard).  Affirming leaders when you are present and empowering leaders when you are absent expands your leadership influence, whether you are there or not.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Command Decisions

Episode 50:  Rainbow Bridge

Colonel Blake:   Well, I’m afraid this is what you call your 
                 command decision.  It’s “lonely at the top” time.  
                 Strictly something for your leader. 
Hawkeye:         Well, Henry?
Colonel Blake:   Oh Golly.  Whatever you people decide is fine with 

The Chinese send the 4077 a message to offer a prisoner exchange as they are unable to adequately treat the captured US casualties.  Colonel Blake calls together the officers to discuss the risks involved in the exchange and calls on volunteers to meet the enemy in their territory.

Leading an organisation into unknown territory always involves an element of risk and demands courageous leadership to make the call to lead where others fear to go.  These sorts of tough decisions cannot be avoided, rarely should be delegated and ought never to be abdicated.  While there are tough decisions that require the collective wisdom of other leaders or a committee to determine the correct course of action, more often than not, what makes decisions tough is not determining what needs to be done but having the courage to do it!  Leadership expert Peter Drucker writes, “Just because something is difficult, disagreeable, or frightening there is no reason for not doing it if it is right.”  From that crucial conversation to a corporate contract, the knowledge of what is the right thing to do can’t be compromised by the degree of risk or reservation by those we lead.  Command decisions require uncompromising character and courage from those entrusted with the responsibility to lead.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Keeping Mobile

Episode 49:  The General Flipped At Dawn

General:       We’re gonna have to move your unit closer to the 
               front Colonel
Colonel Blake: You mean where the guys are fighting Sir?
General:       “You do your best business on Main Street.” -   
               General Cornwallis
Trapper:       It’s not all that pleasant being on the 50-yard 
               line, General.
Colonel Blake: It’s very dangerous.
General:       Danger is our business.  Get your second in command 
               and we’ll find a new location.  MASH means Mobile 
               Army Surgical Hospital, and mobile you shall be.

The camp is tuned into chaos when General Steele arrives to inspect the 4077 and demonstrates some bizarre behaviour that makes him appear to be insane.  His order to relocate the 4077 closer to the front line convinces the officers that he is crazy.

In a constantly changing world the ability for organisations to remain mobile is critical to keep up with their particular market and client needs.  Organisations and leaders who refuse to adjust their position in response to their environment will not only miss opportunities for growth, but risk declining and slipping into irrelevance.  As a church leader, I am all too aware of the importance of keeping the church mobile to be a dynamic movement in the present instead of a static monument to the past.  In his book Where the Rivers Flow, Peter Kaldor identifies the challenge for the church to reach the moving masses:  “Traditional models of ministry tend to be based on a local area.  Greater mobility therefore presents considerable challenges to church ministries.”  Every context of leadership faces the same challenges in keeping their core business mobile to effectively reach beyond their local context.