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, May 28, 2013

Clear Communication

Episode 43:  The Chosen People

Frank:      Captain Pak.  You are here as a medical observer,    
            not to give us language lessons.
Hawkeye:    Frank, by a strange coincidence, the inhabitants of 
            Korea communicate in Korean.  It wouldn’t hurt us to 
            speak their language.
Frank:      I speak American.  And I can go any place in the 
Trapper:    We can have you packed in 20 minutes.
Hawkeye:    We’re living in Korea, Frank.
Frank:      Not me, fella.  I’m part of the American military 
           establishment.  I eat in an American mess.  I shop in   an American PX.  All I want to do is save these 
            people and go home.
Capt. Pak:  And we thank you from the bottom of our bomb craters.

The 4077 compound is taken over by a Korean family claiming it is their farm.  Radar is blamed for fathering a child with a Korean girl.  And Frank demonstrates his cultural insensitivity towards the reality of living in Korea during the war.

There is an amazing event in the Bible where God’s Spirit empowers the followers of Jesus to speak in the languages of the nations gathered at a religious festival in order to fulfil His commission to “go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.”  The result?  “About three thousand were added to their number that day.”  Whatever your leadership context is, those sorts of results demand your attention!  Clear communication is key to effective leadership and successful mission.  There was a time in my ministry when I realised that I wasn’t reaching a particular group in our church very well with our vision.  While we were casting it consistently through verbal, written and visual means, we were not speaking their language.  We learnt that understanding our message wasn’t enough; we had to understand our audience to effectively reach them with our message. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Against Regulations

Episode 42:  Operation Nose Lift

Henry:      Cosmetic Surgery is against army regulations.
Hawkeye:    Another good reason to do it.
Trapper:    Henry, do you know who’s a major down at Tokyo General?  You ever hear of Stanley Robbins?
Henry:     Yeah, sure, the plastic surgeon.  He does all those Hollywood people.
Trapper:    We could have him here in an hour working on Baker’s beak.
Henry:     Don’t tell me.  I don’t want to know about it.  You guys have my full permission, and I never said that.  I mean, I’m not even here, so how could I?

An enlisted man come to Hawkeye and Trapper for a nose job, however, plastic surgery is against regulations in the army.  Not deterred by regulations, Hawkeye and Trapper covertly arrange for the surgery to help out the troubled soldier.

Is there ever an occasion when it is okay to break the rules?  What happens when rules and regulations get in the way of progress?  Is there a difference between appropriate legislation and inhibitive legalism?  What about the ethics of the philosophy “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission?”  These are challenging questions to wrestle with while trying to effectively lead when the system seems to get in the way of getting things done.  Thomas Edison once said, “There ain’t no rules here. We’re trying to accomplish something.”  I don’t think I would want to live or lead in a society that isn’t governed by rules, but I do pray for wisdom and courage to lead in such a way that I can influence those who make the rules.  Leaders have a responsibility to lead up as well as leading down and to appropriately challenge anything that gets in the way of accomplishing something of significance.   

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Chain Reaction

Episode 41:  For Want Of A Boot

Trapper:        He has got to have those boots.
Sergeant Zale:  We made a deal, he didn’t come through.
Hawkeye:       Do you know what I did?  How I degraded myself,  
               how I grovelled, how I hovelled, how I cheapened 
               myself? All for a pair of miserable, lousy army  
               boots. I swear to you, as dedicated as I am to 
              the sanctity and preservation of human life, if I  
               had a gun at this moment, I would send my head 
               across the tent.
Sergeant Zale: A gun takes six weeks.  There’s a terrific        
               waiting  list.

Hawkeye is desperate for a new pair of boots sparking a chain reaction of bartering around the camp to convince the supply sergeant to fast track his requisition.  All the wheeling and dealing backfires when one link in the chain comes undone.

As a child I used to enjoy playing dominos with my brother, especially when we would abandon the actual game and stand all our dominoes on end in a long, winding line, tipping the first domino and watching the chain reaction as each domino pushed over the next.  Unlike this childhood game, the impact of a chain reaction of events in leadership is usually far less entertaining, especially when that chain reaction leads to a series of undesired consequences.  The challenge in these situations is breaking the chain before the knock-on effect goes too far.  In my experience, the sooner the chain is stopped the lesser the impact.  In contrast, if a chain reaction of events creates productive momentum, then a leader will instead want to give it a bit of a nudge.  One thing that is true for both circumstances is that we do not lead in a vacuum and every thing we do as a leader is interconnected.  The question is not if what I do will cause a chain reaction, but whether the impact of the chain reaction will be productive or destructive?