Military best management teacher

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Army Day

Blaring conches, the clash of cymbals, pounding of hooves, whirring chariot wheels: the battle is joined — fierce contests — no quarter given, no quarter taken. The story of warfare is essentially a story of survival of the fittest. It is the story of Man and a saga of human ingenuity.

However, any war is a terrible thing with disastrous consequences for the humanity. It is estimated that at least 160 million people died because of wars during the twentieth century. (It may be noted that in the present era of free information, the numbers get escalated dramatically as adversaries on both sides keep claiming higher causalities.)

Wars are expensive; wars kill many, injure and disable many more and displace a lot of people. Wars are also very traumatic to soldiers who fight and those who experience it and many never fully mentally recover from their war experiences. And above all, no war has ever been able to solve any problems. But battles and wars have been fought since the advent of mankind and will continue to be fought in future too. Have the organisations which wage wars and bring misery to mankind played any positive role in the development of the society?

Common person knows the armed forces only through one obvious aspect of their functioning i.e. their role in fighting wars and helping governments in peace times. There is another side which most of the citizens don’t know but they need to know to get their perspective of the military right.

Throughout history, military organisations have been role models for civilian organisations since they are the pioneers in the development of management thought and organisation theory. It is understandably so because these were the largest and more advanced organistions, because of the needs of the nations they served, till the industrial revolution created bigger and better organisations. Their contribution to the field of management remains unparalleled. Even the work on Scientific Management by the great Fredrick Taylor was supported by many Generals and Admirals of the U S.

Understanding of leadership in extreme circumstances is another area in which military organisations have provided concrete examples. Characteristics of various military organisations may vary to suit the nations they belong to but one thing that has never changed is being looked up to as the most effective organisations in any situation. Understanding of leadership in extreme circumstances is another area in which military organisations have provided concrete examples. Characteristics of various military organisations may vary to suit the nations they belong to but one thing that has never changed is being looked up to as the most effective organisations in any situation.

Understanding of leadership in extreme circumstances is another area in which military organisations have provided concrete examples. Characteristics of various military organisations may vary to suit the nations they belong to but one thing that has never changed is being looked up to as the most effective organisations in any situation.

Understanding of leadership in extreme circumstances is another area in which military organisations have provided concrete examples. Characteristics of various military organisations may vary to suit the nations they belong to but one thing that has never changed is being looked up to as the most effective organisations in any situation.

When Sun-Tzu, the Chinese General authored a small book on how to win wars by using proper strategy and tactics more than 2500 years ago , he could not have imagined that it would become the best –selling management book today, particularly popular in the field of strategic management. Max Weber, the German sociologist credited with the ‘inventing’ the concept of bureaucracy who influenced managerial theory in many ways based some of his ideas on the armed forces in the Roman Empire. If one wants to learn leadership lessons from history, one always turns to the value –based leadership displayed by great soldiers in the past.

The defence forces have contributed immensely to the development of management concepts and thought process and have evolved most of today’s management principles, techniques and practices. Many a modern management techniques like Operations Research (OR) owe their origin to World War II during which production bottlenecks forced the government of Great Britain to look up to scientists and engineers who created mathematical models to find solution to the problem. This branch of study was called OR, since it was used in research in war operations of armed forces. Use of OR for decision-making regarding deployment of defensive forces in the battlefield has been adopted by most of the present day armies. Because of the success of OR in military operations and approach to war problems, it began to be used in industry as well. The concept of delegation was clearly translated from military to industrial organisations which in earlier days were always developed initially as family business or one-man show. The line and staff activity of military was similarly translated in to business activities as enterprises became complex and more and more people with skills in many different fields had to be appointed. It is easy to appreciate why warfare has always been a great model for business and industry.

It may be fair to draw an identity between the principles of war and principles of management. Principles are the laws or fundamental statements of truth which emerge out of constant observations of happenings and situations. Such principles are generally valid and may be thought of as guides for action. Principles have always been there but the techniques of using them get modified and have to be refined as with time operating environments change. Principles of warfare have not changed over the centuries like the principles of management as applied to business and industry. However, techniques of both have changed considerably. Changes have been brought about by the sophistication of hardware and technology of warfare.

Indian army has been struggling to become more and more professional over the years and has come on its own. It is under constant gaze and scrutiny of the media and citizens for reducing costs, both from the point of view of loss of manpower and financial resources, for carrying out any operations they undertake. In prevailing circumstances, it is imperative that military understands the utility of modern management techniques much better and take advantage of these for improving their effectiveness so that scarce national resources can be deployed to meet the aspirations of the common man.

It is a well-known fact that in battle, as in business, defeat is rooted in the loser’s strategy. Unfortunately, the study of failure, which should become the back-bone of structures for success in military as well as in business, is not encouraged in practice.
In the Indian military system, only a few odd-balls spend time as historians. On the other hand German and Russian armies place such officers in their General Staff who have spent some time studying military history. Business leaders may well like to adopt the model of such armies. After all, what better asset for a future business leader than a deep understanding of how his/her company got to be where it is and how it fights the best and the worst which may follow.

Army DayHere, a few of the principles of war along with their not –so- exact and as such not one-to-one equivalence with principles of management have been illustrated for drawing suitable parallels which may help both, military as well as business organisations.

Good knowledge of the rivals/competitors. Intelligence about the enemy or the competitor is vital for designing suitable strategy if the aim is to defeat him. Studying rivals to understand their strengths and weaknesses can make all the difference in victory or defeat. Armed forces have special systems in place to gather and process such intelligence. In an environment of cut-throat competition, companies spend considerable time and money to get information about the competitors. This holds equally good even for ambitious individuals.

Maintenance of aim/objectives. This is perhaps the most basic and important principle of war taught to every military leader. It is a disciplined reminder to the soldier engaged in battle with his adversary that he must single-mindedly pursue his aim and must adhere to it come what may. An executive in business also must direct all the effort and resources to meet the predetermined objectives of his enterprise. When a plan is developed after ‘appreciating the situation’, resources are allotted by the military leader as well as by the business executive in a very rational manner to meet the objectives. However, as the execution of the plan goes along, operating environment, internal and more importantly external, keep changing; this demands redistribution of limited resources and many succumb to the temptation, fritter away such resources at the cost of meeting their original target/objective. An excellent example of relentless pursuit of aim is the Kargil War of 1999. Not losing sight of the aim is true for any person who wants to succeed in any field of activity.

Surprise. Surprise, in military parlance means guarding one’s own ‘base’ while launching an offensive action as per the planned strategy. In war the dilemma of any commander to deploy the resources including weapon systems to secure the base visa-vis using them for launching an offensive at the place of his choosing is well understood by military men. Modern business and industrial houses use aggressive marketing and sales techniques for launching and promoting their products. It is a vital principle which if followed in war and in business activities can pay rich dividends. In war, the surprise pertains to the time and location of the attack and the weapon systems deployed for the attack. Similarly, in business, the timing of launching a new product/model, the markets in which it will be launched and even the pricing of the product are closely held secrets and this surprise is used to beat the competitors. The problems in war and business are akin and both use their strengths and safeguards against their weaknesses to chalk out suitable strategies and plans of action against their present and potential adversaries in one case and the competitors in the other.

Offensive action. It can be easily seen that offensive action leading to seizing initiative and exploiting it to achieve the aim as planned, is vital in any battle as also in any business. It has been proved time and again by military as well as business organisations that scarcity of resources can be more than made-up by timely aggressive action. It does not mean ‘bash on regardless’ but a planned action in which one’s own losses are minimized.

Concentration of force. A military leader or a business executive has a number of targets or objectives which are to be met. Both must prioritize such targets or objectives and commit maximum resources without dissipating them where success is vital. Of course, both will plan in a manner that they are not caught off-guard and such action does not undermine the contribution of other objectives to the overall war or business strategy. A good military or business leader will always chose the area where success is of utmost importance.

Though an effort has been made to draw a parallel or equivalence between principles of war and principles of business, there is a subtle difference. While members of industrial or business enterprise constantly practice their profession and thereby keep updating their capabilities, the military does not have such opportunities to practice its doctrine and strategies. Military exercises are carried out by all armies of the world to make up for actual practice, have a limited use for obvious reasons and cannot replace the actual war experiences and lessons learnt from them. Perhaps, it is for this precise reason that business and industrial organisations have considerably refined many a technique for their own specific use though they were originally borrowed from military. Also, it must be understood that war victories/failures and business success/failure can never be compared. While horrors of war leaves thousands dead and injured with colossal loss of materials, business failures take their own toll in financial losses and missed opportunities.

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