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BirdsEye View

what do the marines and banking have in common?

My last BirdsEye View had to do with lessons from the Israeli Army. I received tons of comments on the article, including this one from Reagan Rick, EVp of First Indiana: "I like the sharp contrast of the Israeli army style of servant-leader with the traditional British approach of separation of officers and the rank and file. You are probably aware of the tale of a British exploration group trapped in extreme conditions in Antarctica. The group took shelter in an ice cave, and the officers directed the group to cut lines in the icy floor to delineate "officers' quarters". While I read the book "Shackelton" thanks to my good friend Terry Moore, I forgot this aspect of his polar exploration. Well put, Reagan!

Liat and I spent a weekend recently spent a weekend in New York and ate at Per Se. The sashimi with home grown ponzu gelee was divine, and the caramelized blanched ginger bits in the carrot soup were a stroke of genius. Two lessons from the meal: 1. Jonathan Bono certainly merits those 3 Michelin stars he was bestowed. 2. Thomas Keller can be in two places at the same time (in point of fact he can, since they have a large plasma TV screen in both kitchens, East and West Coats, with live feed that shows what's happening in both kithcens at all times).

Also, Dick, Gil ("Ace"), Arik ("sure shot"), and I went hunting during Presidents' Day weekend in Texas under ther auspices of my friend and the Host With The Most (and a great banker too) Downey Bridgwater. We had a fantastic time. For photographic documentation of the event and its output, check out the top slide show on www.anatbird.com. I already cooked some of the pheasants in a mixture of KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce, a few good dashes of toasted Chinese sesamee oil and a hefty amount of maple syrup; they were fantabulous!

It's already Spring in california, but far be it from me to rub it in...

What Do the Marines and Banking Have in Common?

In a recent article, I shared some of the lessons I learned from the Israeli Army regarding leadership. The Marines have similar values and much can be learned from them as well. Below are some of th e lessons I learned from our Marines and their motto, Adapt, Improvise, Overcome":
  1. Care more than others think is wise. One of the greatest challenges leaders face is to show that they care about accomplishing their mission and the people who accomplish it. Leaders cannot be effective without inspiring the people who work with them to get the job done. They can do so by touching their hearts and showing their sincere regard for each member of the team. As General Omar Bradley said, "People are not robots and should not be treated as such". A true leader gets maximum effort and loyalty from each employee. Both can be won if the leader cares and is personally fully invested in the venture at hand. Caring does not mean expecting any less, compromising or cuddling. There is a dynamic tension between mission accomplishment and the needs of the people. True leaders find a way to deal with both and strike the delicate balance between them.

  2. Risk more than others think is safe. Many organizations, particularly bureaucratic ones, foster the attitude that if employees stick to the rules and don't get into trouble, they will be successful. This is not a constructive value in a learning organization. Leaders should learn to accept honest mistakes by subordinates (so long as they know not to bet the bank¬Ö). Herb Kallaher, the legendary retired CEO of Southwest Airlines, talked often about how mistakes help his people achieve personal growth without penalizing their career path in the company. We all learn from our mistakes, unless leaders create an environment in which mistakes cannot be survived. So long as mistakes become learning experiences and are reached through a reasoned approach, leaders can gain from tolerating honest mistakes.

  3. Dream more than others think is practical. Being practical is important but could also be limiting. Creating a vision that reaches for the stars but keeps your feet firmly planted on the ground is an inspiring activity to every employee. We all want to dare to dream, and true leaders do. By so doing, they create a future for their company instead of boxing themselves in the past. A natural outcome of this approach is BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals), which only those who dare to dream espouse and eventually achieve. Aspirational goals that are not incremental are a good thing for organizations¬Ö

  4. Expect more than others think is possible. During my first goal setting experience at Roosevelt, we set a goal of net growth of 30,000 checking accounts for the coming year. I was repeatedly advised against setting such a lofty goal because it was a "mission impossible" and a major mistake. "We've never done this before", I was told. We ended the year with a net checking account growth of near 60,000... our people were thrilled with their accomplishment, as they should be. They gained a great sense of satisfaction from this breakthrough performance and from kicking butt in the marketplace. They also got significant rewards, both monetary and otherwise, for their achievement. The following year, the goals set were equally scary, but the atmosphere was one of excitement, willingness to reach out and stretch with confidence. This is a lesson that Jack Welch of GE fame shared with his subordinates many times, and it is also something the Marines adhere to: people are capable of much more than they give themselves credit for or think possible. It is the leader's role to bring their potential to bear and let them shine. Their rewards, from the incentives to the strength such achievements create, are many and sustainable.

In addition, I find much wisdon in the Marines motto, quoted above. The three elements of the motto should be put to good use in American businesses, but I see them all too rarely in our enterprises in general, and in banks in particular.

Adapt implies flexibility, agility and an ability to swiftly change as circumstances call for it. We all too often are too bureaucratic for our own good, and lose the flexibility which most oif us have by virtue of size and small, close-knitted management teams. We should simplify our processes to take greater advantage of our adaptability and foster it, and not use regulatory compliance as the excuse to build more barriers to change. Improvise calls for creativity, for not always doing things "by the book". There are some SuperCommunity banks, most notably Zions Bank, that are innovators of both product and delivery. Size does not dictate rigidity; management does. Improvization in sales settings, product development and marketing contexts and so many other situations is a talent that all of our organizations could benefit from and should teach and foster. Overcome, the third element of the Marines' mantra, is also not present enough in our cultures. We are too prone to find reasons why not, explain inaction and lack of success away, rather than face reality and deal with it. I do not often find a branch manager that believes they have enough people and is adequately staffed; a wealth management person that has enough product breadth and incentive compensation to compete with the big guys; a lender that likes their loan pricing or deposit goals; a CEO that doesn't complain of market kamikazes and the credit unions pricing advantage. Too many of us blame the environment and other uncontrollable factors for non-performance. Instead, we should accept, even embrace, competitive pressure and other realities, and adapt and improvise so we overcome them.

The Marines are a venerable organization, and there is much more that can be learned from them. The core values described above are the foundation that got that unit to the unparalleled level of excellence it has reached. Using the same leadership techniques, bankers can get similar results.