What do US Army Officers and Business Executives Have in Common?


A few years ago, I was visiting the US Army Command & General Staff College, which is the institution where senior army officers receive their leadership development. During my visit, I sat down for a conversation with the Dean of Academics at the College, and  I asked him which leadership capability he considers most critical and this is what he told me.

“We need our officers to be able to visualize the battlefield, without being able to do so, all other decision making is compromised.”

He explained how important it is for officers to be able to visualize the terrain conditions, climate conditions, the location of enemy forces and location of friendly assets, and then to be able to maintain that vision in their mind’s eye when things get volatile, uncertain and ambiguous.

Even though the officers have the hardware, software, satellites, and GPS to assist their decision-making, nothing on the field can replace a senior leader who can see the bigger picture and make accurate decisions even under shifting conditions.  

We have a very similar point of view in the BTS Strategy Alignment practice, so I was delighted to hear this point of view reflected in another domain. Just as the Army emphasizes the need for officers to be able to ‘visualize the battlefield,’ for years, BTS has preached senior business leaders to visualize and take a broad perspective on the interdependencies that exist within their business.

Our shorthand term for this concept is simply: ‘Perspective & Interdependencies’. ‘Perspective & Interdependencies’ is a vital first step in developing business acumen in senior leaders, and a key pillar to ‘Lead Your Business,’ the first step described in our Business Acumen for the 21st Century point of view.

‘Perspective & Interdependencies’ is to the business world as ‘Visualize the Battlefield’ is to the Army. In a business context, can a senior business leader anticipate the implications of a strategic decision across functions and boundaries? Can they ‘visualize’ the impact of a key decision on their internal operations, supply chain, customers, competitors, and finally, financial results? Without a broader enterprise perspective, managers are at risk of simply ‘optimizing for their function’. ‘Perspective & Interdependencies’ is a vital business leadership capability, and without it, all other decision making is potentially compromised.

The Biggest Barrier to Developing Perspective & Interdependencies

When discussing this concept with the CEO of a fast-moving technology company, she said this to me, “Yeah, you are talking about the ability to ‘connect the dots’ at the enterprise level, and that ability is so rare, especially in technical fields.” We discussed why, and how corporations give future leaders ‘mixed messages’ on this subject as they move up the career ladder.

Here’s what I mean by ‘mixed messages’: As a manager moves up in a typical company, they are rewarded and promoted for their technical and functional expertise. They continue to get promoted based on functional performance and eventually become a VP. At that point, the typical corporate approach is to say, “Hey, you made it to VP by being a technical expert in your function, but guess what?  Now we need you to be an ‘enterprise player,’ to make decisions across boundaries and be a great collaborator with other functions.” Yet nowhere along the functional journey has this been a requirement or expectation – so nowhere has the manager been able to develop a strong sense of enterprise level ‘perspective & interdependencies’.  

This disconnect, and the critical importance of giving leaders the opportunity to develop ‘perspective & interdependencies,’ is the reason why the first step on the BTS Business Acumen for the 21st Century point of view is “Lead Your Business”.

Before anything else, you have to build this enterprise level business acumen and help leaders ‘open the aperture,’ see the broader business, and connect the dots across functions (including all the way to enterprise value creation and financial results). To build this understanding, we use business simulations, in which all leaders making the transition to bigger enterprise-level roles can practice gaining ‘perspective & interdependencies’ and making far-reaching, interdependent business decisions.

They can study cause and effect, understand the broader implications of function-level decisions, and anticipate business impacts down the road. This critical enterprise-level business perspective is a first and vital step to becoming a senior leader and making better business decisions.  

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