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Sam MacPherson on the Green Beret Way to Develop Leaders

by Chet Marchwinski
February 4, 2015

Sam MacPherson on the Green Beret Way to Develop Leaders

by Chet Marchwinski
February 4, 2015 | Comments (2)

Training leaders to perform at high levels during a lean transformation or in the Army’s vaunted Green Berets has more in common than you think, according to Sam MacPherson. He’s a retired Special Forces commander and director of training, who also studied the Toyota Production System first-hand at the carmaker’s Georgetown, KY, plant. 

In this video interview, MacPherson explains how you can use what the Green Berets know about selecting and developing leaders. 

On the kind of leadership qualities they seek out in developing Green Berets:

"In assessing potential green berets, we have a leaderless environment and a team environment... So we're assessing the potential green beret's ability to endure, to solve problems, to work as a member of a team... These folks also have an opportunity to assess themselves and each other. Are they a good team leader, a good team member? [They're also assessed/developed] on being able to build a rapport, either with battle-hardened veterans or politicians. And sometimes you can't tell the difference!"

On what civilians can learn from leadership development in the military:

"Special Forces and lean thinking/processes are both team-based cultures. Unlike the rest of the military, Special Forces is actually a complete team-based organization that runs in small group teams similar to Toyota, but also a matrix organization. We can actually pull the Special Forces organization apart and send them out to do very specific missions no matter where they're at in the organization... There's a very structured process to problem solving. There's a decision-making process that I think would help the industry in embracing a uniform approach to problem solving and project management similar to [lean management]. We also have very prescribed team leadership procedures."

On what he sees as the current state of lean leadership and lean leadership development:

"One of our passions is leadership and senior leadership team development. The norm inside of the industry I find is that very few organizations have a developed pathway for leadership development... [In most organizations], people are having to leave their organization, go get a degree and then try to come back and take on the challenge of a new position. Versus having an internal development system... And there's an opening gap between the need for high-potential, globally-deployable lean leaders and the availability of them... So we've got to do a better job of accelerating the growth of lean leaders."

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  global,  leadership
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2 Comments | Post a Comment
JJB February 11, 2015

Hi All,

Very interesting interview...  Based on what was presented, I find it a bit of a stretch to believe that what makes a SF team work (and WHY it works the way it does) is directly transferable to a business environment; especially one where building and sustaining distinctive/core competencies and competitive capabilities - on an enterprise-wide scale/basis - is key to its long-term viability.  Yes, both the battlefield and competitive business environments demand team work, but when it comes to building and sustaining a true lean environment, it's not just about intra-team dynamics, it's very much about the dynamics that need to occur between teams/groups/departments and even organizations (as members of extended "family" of companies) that counts.  And I'm not detecting any of that sort of thinking in anything that Sam was describing about the SF program.

That said, let me present another contrasting perspective on what constitutes a more transferable leadership model...  When it comes to efficient and effective leadership development, I believe that a more powerful and appropos model - albeit one emanating from another branch of the military (i.e., the US Navy) - is what its originator describes as the "leader-leader" model.

 This model stands in direct contrast with the more traditional, and pervaisive leader-follower model.  How (and why) this model came into existence is described by the former commadore/captain of a nuclear-powered attack submarine, the USS Santa Fe.  In his book entitled "Turn the Ship Around," Capt. L. David Marquet provides details/insights into his (and the crew's) transformational journey away from the Navy's traditional "leader-follower" model to the more dynamic and effective "leader-leader" model.

What's most relevant about the journey of Capt. Marquet and his crew in comparison to an organization undertaking a never-ending lean journey is the fact that the "ship" (i.e., the operationally excellent environment that was created) was able to continue to perform at superior levels and produce more candidates for command positions than any other ship in the fleet long after the initiators of the journey had moved on.  In other words, the environment - togeher with the competencies and capabilities developed - was sustainable for an extended period of time, even with different players involved.

 

PS - I also find that operating an nuclear submarine is something that's a closer fit with the complexities of operating a complex business in today's highly dynamic business environment.

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Enrique Mora February 26, 2015

I wish this spreads all over the armed forces. Some groups are still outdated and authoritarian. In Wisconsin we are celebrating the defeat of obligatory unions, but the employers MUST change frequency as well in order to give more respect and leadership delegation to their associates.

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