I finished the book American Spartan. It’s Ann Scott Tyson’s tale of Major Jim Gant’s unconventional strategy to create security and turn the tide of the war in Afghanistan. It’s an amazing story of a soldier as he confronts daily moments of truth, whose stakes are often life and death, while leading his men and the tribal village in which they were embedded against the Taliban insurgency.
I am no Jim Gant, but the last seventy pages of the book resonated deeply with me. These final chapters describe the Army’s handling of the successful “One Tribe at a Time” strategy and its leader. Sadly, personalities, politics, and the system’s deference to its most risk-adverse members resulted in the dismantling of Maj. Gant’s mission and career. These chapters brought home to me some hard truths.
Lead any system with a commitment to excellence and you will face attempts at sabotage. Jim had Ghairat tattooed on his wrist, a Pashtun word meaning personal honor and valor. He led with these principles, and the results he produced were extraordinary. His ability to differentiate himself from conventional leaders and his unit from conventional armed forces enabled him to create the relationships with the native Afghans that fueled the success of his strategy. However, as Friedman argues in Failure of Nerve, “Self-differentiation always triggers sabotage.” It did in Jim Gant’s case, as the army censured him for the unconventionality of his actions and reversed the security gains he and his team had made in Afghanistan.
When I was let go last March, I was the thirty-sixth head coach to be fired during my twenty-four-year tenure in the Ohio State athletic department. More than a handful of these coaches had led their teams to national championships. On this point Robert Quinn, in his book Deep Change, is quite clear:
…to survive, organizations need leaders who take risks and who care enough to die for the organization-which would kill them for caring. Most organizations have few such people. When these leaders emerge, they usually have a vision, and their behavior reflects a transformational paradigm. They are self-authorizing and often follow unconventional methods that are based on moral principles rather than organizational pressures.
This is why at Built to Lead we spend so much time working with leaders on their CORE and their vision. It’s also why BTL is for the few. Most leaders aren’t willing to live in alignment with their principles the way Jim Gant did in Afghanistan. For those who do, most systems will resist being transformed and so will attempt to sabotage the self-differentiated leader.
How about you leader? What transformational paradigm do you believe in? Are you ready for the resistance you will encounter by becoming Built to Lead?