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).

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Soldier On!

Episode 35:  Carry On Hawkeye

Hawkeye:   Let me tell you something “administration.”  You know that little shot you gave me for the flue?...Well, it worked.  I’ve got it.
Margaret:   Are you sure?
Hawkeye:    I’ve got enough nausea to light up the city of Toledo, OK?  First I’m hot, then I’m cold, and my knees are in business with themselves.  My tongue has gone cashmere and I’d like to find an all-night latrine that takes servicemen.  Now, have I got the flu or am I just in love?
Margaret:   Do you think you can operate?
Hawkeye:    I’ve got to.  What am I going to tell the casualties?  To stop bleeding until I feel better?

A nasty flu epidemic hits camp bringing down the majority of the medical staff leaving Hawkeye as the only doctor fit to operate. When he inevitably develops flu symptoms himself, he has no choice but to soldier on with the OR full of casualties.

Do you remember the television commercial for Codral Cold & Flu tablets? – “Soldier on with Codral, soldier on…with Codral you can soldier on!”  While it is important for leaders to look after themselves and take appropriate care in the rigours of leadership, there are times when one must simply ‘soldier on.’  I fear that the pendulum of leadership has swung so far towards ‘self-care’ that the fighting spirit of leadership has been weakened.  No one wants to see a leader burn out, but few are inspired by leaders who give up! During a particularly difficult season of leadership I found myself having a bit of a pity party.  As a person of prayer I cried out to God for sympathy and didn’t quite expect the response I got – “so, do you want to be a leader or not?” Leadership can be tough and there are times when it would be easier to withdraw, but effective leaders choose to soldier on, even when they don’t feel like it.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Heroic Leadership

Episode 34:  The Sniper

Hawkeye:   He doesn’t know we’re out here, but we know he’s in there, which gives us a good chance to catch him.

Frank:     Catch him?!...Look, if you want to be a hero that much, you go.

Hawkeye:   Frank, you know what a hero is?  99 times out of 100, he’s somebody tired enough and cold enough and hungry enough not to give a damn. I don’t give a damn.  Come on.

The 4077 is pinned down by sniper fire from a wayward North Korean soldier.  Margaret challenges Frank to be a real man and end the siege leading him on a heroic search for the sniper, but ending with Hawkeye finding him cowering out in the compound.

It seems to me that the actions of “heroes” are more instinctive than intentional and that given the opportunity to weigh up the pros and cons, would probably think twice before acting.  There is much about leadership that ought to be intentional, based upon well considered plans that weigh up the cost.  However, there are moments in leadership when circumstances require an instinctive response, based upon well grounded values regardless the cost. Leaders who shy away from conflict, crumble in a crisis or need a committee to make a decision when it really counts rarely make any real impact.  The leaders, past and present, who I consider to be among my heroes of the faith are those who have instinctively seized divine moments to advance God’s mission, usually amidst great opposition and personal cost.  One such heroic leader is quoted as saying, “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can” (John Wesley).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Death By Meeting

Episode 33:  Dear Dad…Three

Hawkeye:   [Writing to his dad]  At the London Zoo, every day at four, they have the chimps ‘tea party.’  The MASH equivalent is our monthly staff meeting.  The Pentagon says it’s necessary, but the kind of meetings we have could prolong the war by years.

Hawkeye writes another letter home to his dad, updating him on all the latest activities and antics of the 4077.  A monthly staff meeting turns into a shambles when Hawkeye and Trapper mock the military correctness of Major Burns and Houlihan and move a motion for the war to be ended.

Meetings are one of those necessary evils of leadership.  Love them or hate them, you can’t seem to avoid them.  However, instead of trying to avoid or endure them, we need to learn how to have better meetings, with a clear purpose that stimulate effective outcomes, not stagnate into endless talk fests. Leadership consultant Patrick Lencioni, commenting on his book ‘Death by Meeting,’ says, “Bad meetings are not inevitable. There is nothing inherently boring or unproductive about meetings. They are the activity at the center of every organization, and should therefore be both interesting and relevant in the lives of participants. If we can just turn everything we know about meetings upside down - replace agendas and decorum with passion and conflict - we can transform drudgery into meaningful competitive advantage.”  These sorts of meetings instil passion and purpose into a team and will increase the productivity of any organization.