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Military School

Military methods hold unexpected how-tos for corporate CIOs

There Is No"I" in Team

Clearly the military wouldn't function if it were merely made up of a bunch of self-empowered individuals. As important to the armed forces as the recruitment and retention of top-flight personnel, is the difficult task of creating a team out of diverse people."The high point of my military career was being able to work with some of the most gifted people in the world and lead them. It was the opportunity to take people from all walks of life and turn them into a team," says John Watkins, the CIO of Fairchild Semiconductor, who spent 25 years in the Army serving in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.

Watkins has found his training in team-building equally useful since he left the Army for the corporate world in 1995."It's a different mission, but I still do nothing more than build teams and lead people," he says."It's no less critical in the corporate world. And what I practised doing in the military, I've made no changes to."

Watkins learned a signal lesson in the importance of leadership when he commanded a battalion in Fort Hood, Texas, in 1982. It wasn't just any battalion - it was the worst of all the battalions at the installation: the 11th Signal Battalion, which had never passed an annual inspection."I said: 'Just give me time'," remembers Watkins."I believed they were a great group of soldiers, they just needed some leadership." Four months later, that battalion got the best overall inspection score of any unit in Fort Hood history. It was the same group of soldiers facing the same challenges. But something had changed dramatically."What I discovered was a unit that believed it could do nothing right, whose leaders didn't believe they could do anything right. So it was a matter of getting them to believe in themselves, believe in one another and work as a team," Watkins says."And I've tried to practise that in every structure I've been in since."

Leaders Trump Managers

What CIO hasn't wished he could just give directives that would be obeyed, and be done with it? Well, leadership doesn't work that way - not even in the military, says retired Rear Admiral John Gauss, now CIO of the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC."When I first came to the VA, folks said: Â'John, this isn't the military. When you give an order, people aren't going to snap to'," says Gauss, who ended his 32-year Navy career as commander of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, overseeing 8400 employees."And I said: Â'How's that any different from where I came from?'" The best military leaders have to learn the fine art of motivation early on."You have a lot of smart people in the military, and you can't just order them to take a hill. You have to tell them why they're taking the hill and get them to want to do it," says the American Cancer Society's Patterson.

Major Nate Allen, a West Point professor who co-wrote a popular Army leadership book, Taking the Guidon, says,"The military is definitely a different environment, but people are people. They don't want to be managed. They want to be led. They want to understand what they're doing and why."

That's advice business executives would do well to heed."In the private sector, people are taught to be good managers. But in the military they're taught to be good leaders," Gauss says."While you need to organise things, it's ultimately more important to inspire people to exceed their own limits."

Despite the military's command hierarchy, falling back on rank is a no-no."If you have to rely on the fact that you're a colonel to get people to do things, it just won't work. You can't rely on the insignia on your collar. You have to be a good leader," Patterson says."And it's the exact same thing in the corporate world. You just don't happen to wear a uniform."

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