A Soldier Looks At Business
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 22 Apr 1963, p. 289-301
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Slim, Field-Marshall The Viscount, Speaker
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Text
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Speeches
Description
Similarities between industry and military affairs. The importance of leadership. Defining leadership. Courage, will-power and judgment as essential parts of leadership. Also, in a world rapidly changing, flexibility, mental flexibility becomes an important part of leadership, as does knowledge. The sixth quality of integrity and what that means. Three elements in the exercise of leadership: the commander, the subordinates, the communications system, and a discussion of each. The importance of remaining in the forefront technically. The need for long-range planning. Recognizing, selecting and training subordinate leaders. Implementing some of these techniques in industry. Taking the opportunities offered by change.
Date of Original
22 Apr 1963
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English
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Full Text
A SOLDIER LOOKS AT BUSINESS
An Address by FIELD-MARSHALL THE VISCOUNT SLIM K.G., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O., G.B.E.
Joint Meeting with the Canadian Club of Toronto
Monday, April 22, 1963
CHAIRMAN: President of the Canadian Club of Toronto, Dr. W. Harvey Cruickshank.

Dr. Cruickshank introduced Viscount Slim.

VISCOUNT SLIM: There was, not very long ago, an author of very amusing literary trifles, who said that he had occasion to consult the encyclopedia on the subject of intelligence and he opened it and he found a long article which started something like this. It said: "Intelligence can be considered under three headings: human intelligence, animal intelligence and military intelligence."

Well, although I served several years in industry at both ends-the bottom and the top-and while I have had certain intimate connection for a considerable time, with government in civic administration, most of my working life has been spent as a soldier and I am, basically, a soldier and my approach to situations and problems and persons is still and remains that of a soldier. So it is not surprising if some of you think, even if you are too polite to say so, that this self-confessed soldier is rather presumptuous, possibly impertinent, to think that he has got anything to say about industry which can be of value. But, a soldier might have something to say.

After all, industry and military affairs really are close together; the larger industrial organizations become, the wider they spread their work, the more the problems that confront them, become similar to those that are met with by a general in a campaign. They are so similar that quite frequently I find myself very much at home in a board room. At times they become extremely remarkable, like when we were ready to take over Cordeau.

Then, too, soldiers have been engaged in these great enterprises for several thousand years longer than the business people and we might have picked up something in the course of that time. And, therefore, it might be possible that these problems, the big problems of organization, transportation, finance, communication, choices between technical methods, the choice of subordinates and, above all, the problems of human relations-they are all the same problems that face either large industry or military commanders. And we of the Army have not only been engaged in these problems for a very long time, but we have always been engaged in them on a much larger scale than business, and that head start we have always kept. For instance, there is no commercial or industrial organization that has ever attempted an enterprise as large, as complicated or as important as the D-Day landing in Normandy, and yet that was conceived, planned, directed and carried through to a successful conclusion by regular officers of the services. So, it is possible that a soldier might, looking at industry, have something not completely without value and I hope that will be the case with me.

Now, no man's experience, of course, covers everything and mine is very, very far from that. Before I say anything else, I would like to make it quite clear that I am not going to teach anybody his job, because we all have different jobs, nor am I, when I talk about industry, talking particularly about Canadian industry, because the whole purpose of my visit to Canada is to learn something about it and I am extremely ignorant of it now.

Now, industry, whatever its nature, really depends for its success, very largely, on its management. I would prefer to use the word "leadership", rather than "management". Leadership is a much more elementary and basic human relationship than management. I am always inclined to think that leadership is an art dealing much more with the spirit of a man and management is much more a science. And, anyway, I think any man would rather be led than managed. Wouldn't you?

Now, leadership-or management, if you like to call it that-is the combination of persuasion, compulsion and determination. All those three elements must be present in it. Even in an army, much more is done by persuasion, by gaining the confidence of your soldiers, than by barking harsh orders at them. Persuasion is a tremendous element in all this. Then there must be, in reserve, a determination that, when it is necessary, the unpleasantness and worse of using this compulsion must be accepted. The example is the purest form of leadership and, in many ways, the most effective because example, instead of saying "go on", says "come on" and men will always respond to that very much better.

If you asked me to define leadership, I should say that it is an extension of personality. Leadership is an extremely personal thing and everybody exercises it a little bit differently from everybody else. But it is, essentially, making people do what you want them to do even when sometimes they do not want to do it very much, by an extension of your personality.

Well, all right. If you are going to be a leader, leadership is the extension of personality. What sort of a personality does the chap have to have to become a leader?

It is very important to decide what the qualities of a leader should be, first of all, because we want to develop it in ourselves and, equally important, especially in industry and in the Army we want to be able to recognize those qualities very early in those who serve under us so that we can train them and bring them up and mark them for leadership.

Of course, if you want to list the qualities of a leader, you could go on with a list as long as your arm; but to my mind there are six basic qualities that a leader must have and which we must look for, and the first of these is courage. A leader must have courage. Courage is not so much a virtue, it is the virtue, because without courage there are no virtues. Faith, hope and charity and all the rest of them, are not virtues until it takes courage to exercise them. But a leader wants not so much physical courage, perhaps, as moral courage and that is a much harder thing to get. He must be prepared to do what he thinks is right, even if the consequences to him are not going to be very pleasant. Every man must be as big as his job and a real test of being as big as your job is to be prepared to give it up if people are trying to force you to do something which you believe so strongly is either morally or materially, if you like, wrong. But, courage is an essential of any kind of leadership.

Then, next to courage I would put will-power because if you want to lead, you will always find plenty of opposition and the most difficult opposition to deal with does not always come from your enemy or from your competitor in business; it very often comes from your own people and it is, very often, very genuine oppositon and you have got to have sufficient determination and will-power and tenacity to overcome that opposition. So, it is not much good trying to be a leader unless you have got will-power.

Next, I would put judgment, the power of balancing alternative courses and choosing the right one or, at any rate, a reasonable one. Now, if you select a leader who has not got judgment, the greater his courage, the stronger his will-power, if he lacks judgment, the more disastrous will be his leadership. So, judgment is an absolutely essential quality. As far as judgment is concerned, I always used it to tell my people, when I was in the Army, that when they had two courses of action open to them and the arguments appeared to be pretty equally balanced and they were in doubt as to which they should pursue, I always told them to choose the bold one.

Now, we are getting on where we have got courage and will-power and judgment, but the world is a very rapidly changing place these days and there is a quality of leadership which is becoming more and more important and that is flexibility mental flexibility. Any organism that survives in nature is able to adapt itself to new conditions; otherwise, it just fades out. Conditions are changing so rapidly and in every direction that, unless we have this mental flexibility, it is rather difficult to survive.

There is this struggle always in leadership between determination, so that it does not become just obstinacy, and flexibility, so that it does not become vacillation. Now, if you can hold the balance between determination and flexibility, I think anybody who can do that is well on the way to being a real leader. But it is not easy to do. Very often one changes one's mind and when I have done that, which I have done frequently, I have found a quotation from Emerson very useful. As far as I remember, Emerson at one time wrote: "A foolish consistency is the hob-goblin of a little mind." You try that when you want to change your mind; it is great company.

Then, of course, a leader must have knowledge. After all, unless you know more about the thing which you are telling other people to do than they do, you have no right to lead them. That does not mean that you have to know the details of the work of every man who serves under you. You can't expect an Army commander to drive a tank as well as a profesisonal tank driver, to take a wireless set to pieces and to put it together as well as a signaller or preach a sermon as well as an Army Chaplain or take out an appendix as well as an Army doctor, or something like that. But, he must have knowledge of all the conditions under which those things are done and how long they take and the strain that they entail on the men who do them and in what ways they can be helped in their tasks. And, of course, if he is down on the low level, if you are a section commander or a platoon commander you ought to be able to do everything that any man in your section or your platoon does at least as well as he can and if you can't, get out behind the but and practise till you can; but as you go up, your detail knowledge must, of course, inevitably grow less.

Now, I have given you five qualities: courage, will-power, judgment, flexibility and knowledge, and there is one more that I think the real leader ought to have. If you have those five qualities, you will be a leader. Nothing will stop you from being a leader. But if you are to be a leader for me, then I think you must have one more and this is not so much of a quality as an element in which all the other qualities work, and that is what I would call integrity.

Integrity is a little more than just plain honesty. It is really the old, Christian virtue of loving your neighbour even before yourself, and "your neighbour", for a leader, is the people he leads and he must always think of them and put their well-being actually before his own: That is not only, I think, good ethics, but it is good business because one will find then that when your leader has integrity, even if things do not go very well with him, people will stand by him. If he hasn't got integrity, he will be a fair-weather leader and there are very few of us who have ever tried to lead anything who have not run into some pretty bad weather sometime.

In this exercise of leadership in any field, there are three elements. There is, first of all, the commander. In the Army, he is usually a General. In business, he may be a chairman or a board. But it is, whatever you like to call it, the top man or the top men. Then there are subordinates who are his subordinate commanders, divisional commanders or regimental commanders; in business, his managers, and so on. That is the second element.

Then, the third element is the communications system by which ideas pass from the top right through every individual in the whole organization. Now, the job of the top man or the board is really to make decisions and, having made those decisions on high matters of policy, it is an awful pity if they waste their time doing things that are not important. Having made their decision on it, it is their job to see that it is clearly expressed and it is very funny how well our education is alleged to be increasing. I really believe that our command of plain, simple, easily understandable English is growing less and everybody who sets out to be a leader, in any walk of life, wants to be able to express himself plainly, shortly, and clearly.

Now, beginning at the top with our commander or leader or chairman or board, one of the first things that they have got to do is to get themselves known. It is a very distressing thing, but in a great many firms and organizations the head man can go around his organization and, unless he is trailed around by a lot of other people, the ordinary fellow on the workshop floor won't know who he is. Now, a general or the head of any organization ought to be able to go into any camp, barrack, bivouac or any workshop, office, in his organization, and be recognized as the top man. That is, I think, the thing in which the Army is rather better than a good deal of industry. I think we in the Army usually achieve that. I know I used to walk into somewhere, unannounced, and I would hear the whisper go around, 'Here's the old bugger, what's he doing now?" Well, it was much better to be recognized than to be popular, and also, soldiers, and I think workers in all walks of life, have a habit of using words beginning with "b" almost as a term of endearment. But the head man must be known because he can't know everybody. But they must know him. And never laugh at a general who wears a pair of breeches and puts two patches on them, because he is fulfilling one of the outstanding requirements of leadership. He is getting himself known to the men he leads.

The temptations that assail the head of any organization to remain at your desk are increasing because the problems pile up and you have to keep in the centre of things; but do not let that become too strong. Get out and about. After all, if you are running the show properly you will have somebody that can take your place. If you have got a really good organization, it will run quite well for a week without your being there. If it runs as well when you are away for a month or more, well then you may as well stay away.

The second element in the exercise of leadership is the subordinate commanders, all the managers and the heads of areas, or whatever your organization has. Now, what they want, first of all, is a clear directive of what they are supposed to be doing. They ought to be fully in the mind of the top man or top board and it is necessary that they should understand very clearly what his object is, what he is trying to do. Now, I have had an immense number of orders and directives sent out in my name and those of you who remember the military order, there is one thing in it which is called the "intention". It is usually the shortest paragraph in the order and I had a lot of very, very good Staff Officers who could write orders much better than I could, but I always wrote the intention paragraph myself. It was usually the shortest in the order, but I think it is the most important because if the intention of the directive is known, then you can allow your subordinates a great deal of flexibility and a great deal of room in what they do to obtain it, so long as they keep well within the bounds of the directive. We are a little inclined to breathe down the necks of our subordinates and when we do it is, very largely, for one of two reasons: (1) because we are not quite sure we have chosen the right man, and that is our fault, and (2) we have not really made our intentions to him clear and we are not quite sure that he will keep within the bounds of the intention.

Another thing about subordinates is sometimes the subordinate fails. In the Army, he may lose a battle or do something wrong. Well, I have always found that it was not a good thing to rush to him and sack him on the spot; it was much wiser to find out why he had failed because sometimes, especially in war, men fail because things happen of which they could not possibly have any foreknowledge and in an attack somewhere there happened to be two enemy divisions that just arrived the night before, or the weather might suddenly have changed, and it was always a good thing, I found, to go down and find why he had failed. But, do not be in too big a hurry to sack a chap until you know why he went wrong. If he did it because he was clod-footed or plumbstupid or something like that, well, you can't get him out quick enough. But give him a chance to find out why.

Now, one of the most difficult things in leadership, especially in industrial leadership, is what I think we can call "communications", which means how you get the intention of the top man right to the boy with the oily rag, right down through the whole organization. And it sounds stupidly simple but I have always found if you want to get people to understand something you want to tell them, the simplest thing is to go and tell them. Now, I have a belief that occasionally-not very often, but occasionally-the top man, he may be the top of a great organization or he may be the manager in the factory, he ought to assemble the people. Now, of course, if you run an organization with one hundred and twenty thousand workers in it, you can't do this all at once. You will have to split them up. But what I believe in very much is collecting the whole of one bloc, the managers, sub-managers, the foremen and workers, right down to the old boy who sweeps out the workshop floor, and get them all together in one place. There are advantages in that. It makes them feel a team. Then tell them what you are trying to do. You do not have to be an orator to do that. Only two things are required. One is to know what you are trying to do and the other is to believe in it yourself, because if you try to tell people things you do not believe in yourself, unless you are a very clever politician, you will be found out. I think that should be done sometimes.

Another thing which sometimes I have noticed some firms-not any with which I am connected-the thing some firms are not very good at: they get a little bit confused on the channel by which you would pass down your instructions. You must, of course, keep your trade unions and your trade union representatives very closely in touch with you, well aware of what you are trying to do and of the effects it will have to pass your information down through what I would call the proper channel of command and let your foreman know about it at least as soon as your shop stewards. You know, sometimes in industry we are not very good in making what I would call the N.C.O's. of industry feel that they really are part of the management. In the Army, we have our non-commissioned officers, but you will notice that we call them "officers". They have something on their sleeve. I may have something on my shoulder, but we are both officers and if you have got any sense, when you are commanding a regiment, you impress very much on your N.C.O's. that they are non-commissioned "officers". I think very often in the lower ranks of the administration of industry we would be well advised to do that a little more than we do and make them realize that they really are a welcome part of the management.

Now, industry gets more and more complicated and to me, a soldier, it grows more and more like a campaign and I think, looking at it as a soldier, on the many, many fronts of it at home and abroad, there are two or three to which we might possibly pay a little more attention or even look at the Army and see if there is anything there that we might pick up.

Now, first of all, there is the technical front. It is absolutely essential that whatever industry we are in, we should keep well in the forefront technically. If we don't, we shan't survive. That, of course, entails a very close study of the proportion of your resources you will spend on research and of the amount that you spend on research, or devote to research, how much you will devote to developing lines that you are already working on, improving your capacity for turning out things you are turning out, and how much you will devote to wnat is much more fundamental in research and that is a problem much greater and, having settled that, it is one on which the future prospect of our industry depends very much. Another thing is the continuation of progress, technical progress of his education which starts long before a man comes to join an industry, and we are very much inclined, I think-certainly in Great Britain, and we certainly were in Australia-to have this idea that you have got to shove everybody through university. Perhaps I am prejudiced because I never went to university. But they used to tell me in Australia that we must have five thousand more scientists. Well, believe me, if they had had five thousand more scientists the next morning, they would not have known what to do with them. They have got scientists-at any rate, fellows with B.Sc. degrees-watching dials in control rooms and, honest to God, I believe I could learn to do that in a week. When your needle goes into the red, you pick up a telephone and say, "Number five furnace is getting too hot." What we want, I think, even more than these very large numbers is quality, and you will make more progress if you have five hundred really first-class technicians or scientists than you will if you have five thousand ordinary ones, and we ought to go in our education systems, I think, very much more for quality. If you will repeat that to anybody, I shall get a lot of letters tomorrow morning telling me I do not know anything about it-but, that is what I believe.

Another thing, I think, in which industry lags is longrange planning. We get mixed up between what is planning and what is development. To me, a soldier, planning is something you do quite a long way ahead and a lot of it you never use. But, you take, for instance, when the Common Market, two or three years ago, burst on an astonished British industry. The damn thing had been going on about five years and had been talked about for about fourteen years, but you found there were a large number of British in the United Kingdom ran about saying: "What the hell is this Common Market and what are we going to do about it?" They would have been very much better off if four years earlier they had got down to planning what the Common Market meant to them and the effect it would have, if it came, on their business. In that, I really do think that the services, the Army, can teach industry something.

I believe, however, large industry should have a small group of planners. The planners would be quite young men. They would be taken from various parts of the industry in which they had already distinguished themselves. They would be relieved of all executive authority. They would be put directly under the control of the Chairman or one of the Vice-Chairmen and their job would be to go around the organization, with the authority of the Chairman, and ask any questions they liked, find out about things, produce ideas and work on any ideas that were given to them. I think that would produce a dividend. Don't keep them out too long or else they get swell-headed, but send them back to the grind-stone every two years, or every eighteen months, if you like, and pick new ones. But, I do think every organization should have a small planning section, responsible to the top management, with no executive authority, whose job is simply to discover and examine ideas. I think, very often, the sections of industry are not terribly good at thatplanning is a bit muddled.

Then, the other that we have to do is to recognize, select and train subordinate leaders. Now, an Army in which the only leaders are the Generals will never win any victories at all. You have to get leaders the whole way down and it is the same in industry. You have to spot them quite early because it is no good having a fellow in the ranks for fifteen years and then expecting him to become an officer-he won't. We have to have some organization in industry, like you have in the Army, that begins to look for potential leaders as soon as they join. You know, when we had National Service in the Army, the boy came in and from the day he joined he was being looked at either as a potential N.C.O. or as a potential officer, because we only had him two years and we wanted to use the potential officers for eighteen months as officers, and we had jolly good officers that way. But I think very often in industry we are not quick enough to spot the fellow who could become a good executive. We know the qualities that we ought to look for but we haven't got a good system of looking for them or reporting them when we find them. But, to go even higher, I think when you want a senior executive, sometimes there isn't a very good method of selecting him. You see, in the Army, if I wanted a Divisional Commander, I would very likely pick one that I knew and he would, I hope, do a good job; but the military executive furnish and put on my desk four names with a little history of what they were and what they had done and they would say: "Any one of these four will do the job, but some of them have such and such faults and some of them have lack of qualifications, and so on." In industry, one is awfully inclined to miss a chap who has been working in another section of a large industry and go to the chap he knows very well. But 1 think we ought to have organization which will put every man in front of whatever does the selection. We have, in industry, to a very large extent, copied the methods of training in the Army and I think that is very wise. We have our staff colleges and they are modelled completely on the ordinary Army life. They run the same way and their methods of instruction are the same and I think that is very good and it works very well. But there is one thing a good many industries are not totally good on and that is, having got a fellow who is likely to be a potential executive, very often his career is not planned; he is not given the wide experience that he should have. People are obviously reluctant: if you were the manager of a factory or a department and you have got a good chap under you, you are in no hurry to send him away. But, there should be some organization which looks for a man in ten years' time to be one of our leading executives. He has the qualities and now he has spent all his time in one line. They will shift him over to another because he will need that when he gets up. I do not think we plan careers of our most promising chaps in industry as well as we should.

Now, I have talked a good deal too much, but one of the things is that industry is changing-the world in changing, politically and materially, morally and in every way the world all around us is changing. But it is not changing like it used to fifty or sixty years ago when I was a boy. The world is changing now as if somebody had his foot down hard on the accelerator of a sports car and we have got to be alive to that. But, it is not good, and it is quite wrong to go about shaking one's head saying, "Oh, things are changing." Of course they are changing; anything that lives changes and the thing to remember is that change is only another name for opportunity. And why shouldn't it be our opportunity?

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. J. Palmer Kent, Q.C.

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A Soldier Looks At Business


Similarities between industry and military affairs. The importance of leadership. Defining leadership. Courage, will-power and judgment as essential parts of leadership. Also, in a world rapidly changing, flexibility, mental flexibility becomes an important part of leadership, as does knowledge. The sixth quality of integrity and what that means. Three elements in the exercise of leadership: the commander, the subordinates, the communications system, and a discussion of each. The importance of remaining in the forefront technically. The need for long-range planning. Recognizing, selecting and training subordinate leaders. Implementing some of these techniques in industry. Taking the opportunities offered by change.