Sunday, March 18, 2012

Strategic Clarity

An interesting thing happened several years ago: and it speaks to just how confusing people can get when they try to be ‘too clever by half;’ under the ‘Lancaster House Treaties’ the Royal Navy (the United Kingdom’s Navy) and the French Navy began planning to operate as more or less a combined force, with Royal Navy and Royal Air Force aircraft operating off of a French aircraft carrier and the two navies collaborating with various patrols in support of NATO obligations.

The agreements actually go well beyond that and entail the two nations extending collaboration between their defense forces in virtually every area. Granted that politicians and ambassadors often make statements that are a bit grandiose, but one ambassador recently said of the ongoing collaboration that: “ [t]he long-term future of the partnership is assured thanks to bipartisan … support that will outlast any leadership changes.”

What does this have to do with leadership? Well, two points, actually. First, how could two separate organizations have the same goal? The simple answer is that they really can’t. They can be close, but they will never be the same, except in the rare event that they both face a truly existential threat. But even then they are likely to view the threat differently and they are likely to develop different plans to address the threat. If so, how can they have the same asset being used in both plans simultaneously? Answer: they can’t.

Clarity of your goal is the sine qua non of successful leadership. Is it likely that two different countries are going to have the same – precisely the same – goal? Is it even possible? Which suggests that the first time there is real strain this arrangement will be in jeopardy, as will both nation’s plans.

The second point is the comment above: the partnership will outlast leadership changes. For that to be true (and this is true of any interlocking partnership) the ‘leaders’ who come in following any leadership changes will have to agree that whatever were the goals of the past will be their goals. In short, they will not be allowed to change direction. In short, they will not be allowed to lead, only to manage.

The intention here is not to comment on the UK and France and their treaties. They are perfectly free to sign treaties and try to bind themselves to each other. But the lesson any leader should draw from this is this: successful plans, and all successful leaders have good plans that are keys to their success, begin with clarity of goals. Two separate and equal organizations can only with great difficulty have exactly the same goal, and then usually only for a short period of time. Trying to make such arrangements work usually requires a great deal of effort for little product. Further, such an arrangement will severely limit the ‘range of movement’ of the leaders on both sides. Before you enter into any such arrangement, consider that, and then move wisely.


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