Learn lessons from war for prosperity in peace time

Dr M Amr Sadik explains to Alan Hosking why HR professionals can learn much from reading Sun Tzu’s ancient writings in The Art of War.

Why are you suggesting we look at the writings of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War which was written in 513 BC?

History provides us with collective wisdom and experience to learn from. There is no doubt that ancient stories and history books shed light on different events and situations that happened in the past which are to a great extent similar to events and situations in our present day. Such history can teach us many lessons that we can put into practice today in managing complex organisations and their human capital.

Learning lessons from history has been a phenomenal source for free advice and inspiration. Thus, those who fail to learn the lessons from history are condemned to repeat them, but most the significant thing we learn from history is that we certainly do not learn from it.

But what can military history say to managers and business leaders?

Military history has provided a number of useful representations for business, general management and for human resources management as well. To learn from military history, past events must be examined thoroughly so proper modules can be derived from them.

Over the past years, military descriptions have been used frequently in management topics such as Marketing, the Cola Wars – the story of the global corporate battle between the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo, Inc., and between fast food dynasties McDonald’s and KFC. Everyone’s trying to one-up each other amid intense competition. Also, in 1997 McKinsey and Company introduced the term “War for Talent” to describe the shortage of skills in the labour markets, which became part of Human Resources’ annual planning activities to attract and retain the most talented staff.

To this end, certain comparisons can be made between company competitions and military warfare:

– Both strive for a winning position by defeating their competitors while defending themselves;
– Competitions and wars are confrontational activities;
– Organisations must be well organised and well managed;
– Organisations and wars require strategies and tactics;
– Leadership styles of both army and organisation have an important influence on the shaping of success;
– Both need high quality and committed people;
– Both thrive on information;
– Both have to have discipline and communication systems to convey the news and information; and
– Both have to ensure the strong management of people.

With this in mind, we should be able to expand on those aspects of business that more closely resemble war – business competition and competitiveness. But, we will focus on the management of people’s part.

Why choose a military man? Why not someone like a philosopher?

Sun Tzu and The Art of War offer valuable insights for HR Management in the modern business environment. His book was based on military strategies but in reality these strategies can be used in all job fields, such as Human Resources. His writings have been highly influential in both marketing and business management science.

In his writings he also shed light on some essential principles for HR to follow. HR practitioners ought to go through Sun Tzu’s philosophies to appreciate his clear wisdom and the clarity of thought that we can put into practice, as some of the noticeable concepts that are embedded in his works can be applied to the Human Resources Management.

Sun Tzu said, “The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence, it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected”.

In the contemporary management and HR business environment, achieving competitive advantage is done by and through people as a unique source that can’t be copied easily. Other sources can. Therefore, from an HR point of view, the art of managing people is of vital importance to an organisation, it is a matter of life and death, a road either to prosperity and competitiveness or to destruction and bankruptcy. Hence, it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.

Dr M Amr Sadik (DBA, CHRE, CHRA, MMC, CCMT) is HR Advisor to the Chairman El Nasr Building and Construction – EGYCO and formerly Principal Consultant, Organisational Development and HR Business Advisor at Dimensions Consulting, Syria and Egypt. He is the winner of the 2010 Talent Challenge Best Practices in Talent Management Award, London, UK, the 2010 HR Leader Award from the Greentech Foundation, India, the 2008/2009 HR Leadership Award from the World HRD Congress, India, and the 2007 Best HR Executive, International Business Award from the Stevies, USA. Dr Sadik has held key human resources leadership roles for over 20 years in multiple industries within the Middle East and Gulf States.

This article appeared in the December 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.

Human Resources, Human Racehorses or Human Remains?

Moving from transactional leadership to transformational leadership takes courage and commitment.

As is the case with many professions, there are jokes about human resource people – some so close to home it hurts and some devoid of any substance and fact and far removed from the truth. An undisputed fact, though, is that perceptions shape the dispositional world and, at times, the management of perceptions should precede any justification of whether the perceptions are in fact true or not.

The concept of perception is quite novel when one considers that perceptions are shaped by a variety of observations, experiences and events. Take the important issue of leadership for example. There is a perception held by many that leaders choose to be leaders. According to Professor Theo Veldsman from the University of Johannesburg, very few leaders in current leadership positions can honestly say that they embarked on a career of leadership. He goes on to say those leaders are being leaders rather than doing leadership and this requires systemic intelligence as well as contextual intelligence. So, if the above is taken as a case in point, leaders did not in fact, choose to be leaders; they became leaders.

When dealing with people complexities in the workplace, human resources specialists are often faced with the dilemma of what I call MPS (multiple perception syndrome). Let me explain …

Employee Katherine, who has a colourful history of complaining about many things, comes to HR Manager Henry bitterly complaining about her line manager/boss (should we still have bosses or should we have leaders?) HR Manager Henry has a very good perception about Boss, Boss is liked by all and sundry, including the CEO. Boss also has many years at the company and subsequently, HR Manager Henry has a very good relationship with Boss. HR Manager Henry attempts to hear Employee Katherine out, but has already made up his mind and thinks to himself “… here we go again!” At this point HR Manager Henry is on his way to becoming Human Remains! In short, HR Manager Henry does not pay much attention to Employee Katherine and agrees to “look into” the matter and promises to give Employee Katherine feedback.

With perceptions clouding the mind of HR Manager Henry, he does “look into the matter” (not quite sure I know exactly what that means, though), has a quick chat (Human Racehorses) to Boss about Katherine. And the result? Boss dismisses the complaint, HR Manager Henry feels satisfied he is looking after employee interest and … delays responding to Employee Katherine. Employee Katherine does not leave the matter unresolved, escalates the matter to a leader in the company and very soon it turns out that Employee Katherine was in fact 100% correct! Boss is summoned to a disciplinary enquiry and he and the company part ways.

“What is the point?” you may ask. The point is that HR Manager Henry did not follow his true calling and remain impartial. He reacted to his perceptions – one sure way to rapidly move from Human Resources to Human Remains.

So what can the prudent, honourable and solid HR person do to steer clear of any traps in this regard?

At the risk of over-simplifying a complex matter, I believe the solution, in part, lies in the field of leadership – a hotly and widely covered topic, and more specifically Transformational Leadership.

Transformational leaders create something new from something old by changing the basic political and cultural systems (Tichy, Ulrich, 1984). This differs from transactional managers who make adjustments to the organisational mission, structure and human resources.

Transformational leadership accomplishes this by challenging and transforming individuals’ emotions, values, ethics, standards and long-term goals through the process of charismatic and visionary leadership (Northouse, 2007).

The term Transformational Leadership was first coined by Downton (1973), however, its emergence did not really come about until James Burn’s classic, Leadership (1978), was published. Burn noted that the majority of leadership models and practices were based on transactional processes that focused on exchanges between the leader and followers, such as promotions for performing excellent work or punishment for being late. On the other hand, transformational leaders engage with their followers to create a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in not only the followers, but also the leaders themselves.

In 1985, Bass expanded on the transformational and transactional models by noting they were more of a continuum, rather than two separate entities. In addition, the concept of Laissez-faire or delegating was also on the continuum:

Leadership continuum breakdown

In addition, Bass wrote how transformational Leadership inspired the followers to do more by:

– Raising their levels of consciousness of the organisational goals;
– Rising above their own self-interest for the sake of the organisation; and
– Address higher level needs.

While charisma of the leader is necessary for the followers to achieve the above needs, other conditions are also necessary, such as motivational forces, intellectual stimulation, and individualised consideration. This chart shows some of the factors of the continuum that have been identified by researchers (Northouse, 2007, p.175):

leadership continuum
Since this is a continuum, the degree of separation between transformational and transactional leadership often falls in the grey. In addition, leaders will at times operate out of all three modes (transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire), rather than sticking with one.

For example, House (1976) identified these characteristics of a charismatic leader (charisma is one of the main identifiers of a transformational leader):

– Strong role model;
– Shows competence;
– Articulates goals;
– Communicates high expectations;
– Expresses confidence; and
– Arouses motives.

One leader that comes to mind that has all the high marks of these characteristics is the late Steve Jobs of Apple. Although he sits on one part of the continuum as a transformational leader who shows the above qualities of a transformational leader, he would use the corrective transactions of a transactional leader, such as severe criticism (punishment) when a designer did not meet his expectations.

And so, fellow human resources professionals and people dealing with multiple perception syndrome (MPS), these few simple tips may help and guide you to resolve a range of issues in the dynamic and complex world of Human Resources (NOT Human Remains):

– Forget who and what you are during an interaction – the focus is not you;
– Your loyalty lies with a correct, honest and ethical outcome – not with the company or individual;
– Do not delay an outcome due to your insecurities – there comes a time where enough is enough;
– Communicate honestly, timeously and professionally; and
– Move on and clear your emotional recycle bin!

May the tips above and these words by Adriaan Groenewald in his book, Seamless Leadership (2015) help you to what real leaders do, breathe easy and sleep well:

“Be part of the solution rather than the problem; focus on taking ownership and creating effective movement where you stand.”

Leon Steyn is the Group Human Resources Executive of TMS Group, www.tmsg.co.za.

This article appeared in the December 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.

How many times have you robbed yourself?

We’re all quick to criticise dishonest people who take something that doesn’t belong to them, but don’t realise that we might be robbing someone of something they’ve worked very hard for. That someone is ourselves.

No-one likes a thief who unlawfully takes from someone something that that person has worked very hard for. Thieves come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are non-violent and commit what they think are victimless crimes. For instance, if they embezzle money from the company they work for, they justify it by thinking that the company has plenty of money so will be able to survive. And, besides, there’s no one person who is going to suffer a loss as a result of the theft.

Others resort to more violent methods of stealing money. They may attempt to blow up a cash machine or hold up a cash van and have little regard for the lives of the guards who are transporting the cash. Armed robberies in homes, also known as home invasions occur when criminals decide to take by force from homeowners things those homeowners have worked very hard to afford.

It’s therefore very clear that there is no justification for taking other people’s money and/or material possessions (to sell for money).

But money is not the only thing that can be stolen. Some people steal time from their employers by using the time they are paid to work for their employers to do things that benefit them personally and have nothing to do with benefiting their employer.

One can also rob people of their time by wasting it, rob them of their dignity by acting in a way or saying things that strip the person of their reputation and/or dignity.

I’m sure as you think about it, you will come up with many other things that people can be robbed of, but how about this … What have you been robbing yourself of?

Forget about what others may have stolen from you, consider for a moment what you have stolen from yourself. You obviously can’t steal money from yourself but, for instance, how much time have you robbed yourself of by wasting precious time that could have been used to build or further your career?

How much of your future have you robbed yourself of simply because you haven’t bothered to utilise the potential you have been given? Every one of us has been given a wide range of gifts. It is our duty to discover those gifts. It’s not someone else’s responsibility to do so.

Talk of music or singing stars being “discovered” is misleading. Usually those stars in the making have been doing their thing for quite a long time before they were supposedly discovered.

I clearly recall, many years ago, seeing Huey Lewis and The News (remember them?) receiving an American Music Award. In his thank you speech, Huey Lewis said, “I just want to thank all of our fans who supported us for the past 10 years until we became an overnight sensation.”

That statement was his way of saying that they had been already been doing their thing for a long time until they were supposedly “discovered”. Sadly, the media prefers the “overnight sensation” approach to things because it creates, in their opinion, more of a buzz. There’s not much impact in a heading that says, “After playing their songs for over 10 years, this band has now become well known.”

I therefore ask you: examine yourself to identify what you may be robbing yourself of. You are no different – you deserve to be able to enjoy everything you’ve been given in life. Don’t be the one who robs yourself of those things.

If you’re not developing your gifts and abilities, you’re robbing yourself – and your family – of a brighter future … a future you deserve.

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag, and assists leaders to achieve self-mastery using IQ, EQ, PQ and SQ.

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