Hope Is Not a Method: What Business Leaders Can Learn from America's Armyby Gordon R. Sullivan, Michael V. Harper (With)
Since the end of the Cold War, the United States Army has been reengineered and downsized more thoroughly than any other business. In the early 1990s, General Sullivan, army chief of staff, and Colonel Harper, his key strategic planner, took the post-Cold War army into the Information Age. Faced with a 40 percent reduction in staff and funding, they focused on new peacetime missions, dismantled a cumbersome bureaucracy, reinvented procedures, and set the guidelines for achieving a vast array of new goals.
Hope Is Not a Method explains how they did it and shows how their experience is extremely relevant to today's businesses. From how to stay on top of long-range issues to how to maintain a productive work force during times of change, it offers invaluable lessons in leadership and provides proven tactics any business can implement.
Sullivan (who recently retired as the army's chief of staff) offers a detailed briefing on how the army has remained an effective, flexible, well-trained force to be reckoned with despite the budget cuts, downsizing, and restructuring that occurred on his watch (199195). While some observers might conclude that the military took its survival cues from business, the four-star general argues that corporate America could in fact learn a lot from the army's transformative experiences. The issue of who's borrowing from whom is almost beside the point, since, with the aid of anecdotal evidence gathered from civilian as well as military sources, the author and his collaborator (a retired colonel who headed the army's strategic planning group) provide a comparatively conventional governance manual; as a practical matter, moreover, the text's down-to-earth advisories are broadly applicable to great or small organizations of virtually any kind. In their can-do canvas of guiding principles for capitalizing on convulsive change, they stress the importance of shared values, identifying objectives, challenging the status quo, empowering subordinates, and visionary leadership. Covered as well are the putatively handsome returns obtainable from investing in people, benchmarking the future, reinforcing an outfit's collective commitment, encouraging constructive dissent, and keeping all hands abreast (if not ahead) of the learning curve.
Sound counsel for aspiring and incumbent executives from old soldiers who appreciate the difference between leadership and management.
- The Crown Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
Remaking America's Army
The Cold War Army
As we watched the crowds pull down the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, we knew that the world was changing in profound and unpredictable ways. There was no Cold War symbol more powerful than the Wall, which for a generation had been the physical manifestation of the imprisonment of the people of Eastern Europe. Most of us in the Army had spent years in Germany. Many of us had personally patrolled the German border and watched the East German guards in their towers. That the Wall would come down at the hands of the German people while a helpless Red Army looked on was almost impossible for us to comprehend.
Much has happened since that day in 1989, but it is not hard to remember what we felt at the time. It was momentous. It was as if we were IBM contemplating the first Apple computer, or General Motors the first Volkswagen or Toyota. The collapse of the Iron Curtain represented a fundamental change in the world in which we operated, a shift so basic that it was hard to understand. The fact that CNN brought it to us live and in color merely underscored its almost surreal quality.
America's Army was the best army in the world--a fact demonstrated in Panama less than six weeks later and in the Persian Gulf War less than a year and a half later. But we faced enormous uncertainty that day--the future was cloudy, dangerous and ambiguous. The Army that showed such competence and flexibility on the battlefield had been perfected for a world that suddenly no longer existed.
In the aftermath of these events, the challenge was to displace a sense of satisfaction with the Cold War, Panama, and the Persian Gulf andimbed a passion for growth.
The challenge was to keep the Army ready to fight while we were demobilizing 600,000 people--something we had never done successfully in more than two hundred years of history.
The challenge was to bring the alacrity and learning we had demonstrated on the battlefield into the bureaucracy.
The challenge was to transform the Army, creating a future of service to America.
After Vietnam, the Army had turned inward and rebuilt itself. The regular army had been exhausted in Vietnam. The noncommissioned officer corps had been decimated; officers had little sense of training and operations beyond that demanded by the Southeast Asian battlefields; modernization of the armored force had fallen a generation behind; the Army was demobilizing far too rapidly to maintain any semblance of readiness; the reserve forces were largely untrained; lack of discipline was a chronic problem in some units; and many in and out of uniform questioned the very values of the institution. With the stroke of a pen, the nation ended the draft, forcing the Army to recruit a force six times larger than it had ever maintained in peacetime without a draft. The years right after Vietnam were a very difficult time.
The long journey from Saigon to Kuwait City and beyond was difficult and sometimes painful. In that process, the Army began to chip away at old ways and to understand quality, operational flexibility, and organizational learning. By 1989, the Army did not look particularly different from the outside; but inside it had already made one major transformation. What came out of that first transformation was an unprecedented degree of operational flexibility. You could see it in men such as General John Shalikashvili, who led the successful operation to resettle the Kurds after the Persian Gulf War: nothing like that, on that scale, had ever been done before. Those of us inside the Army could see it in a thousand ways. At the operational level, the Army had become a high-quality, flexible, learning organization.
In other respects, the United States Army at the end of the Cold War looked frustratingly as it had at the end of World War II. The World War II Army had been built on the same kinds of ideas about structure and decision making that the great industrialists had used to build American industry. Over the intervening years, it had become more and more layered with expensive, time-consuming bureaucracy that had added enormous cost, slowed down innovation, and made it harder and harder to respond effectively to change. Our ideas about structure and process were very fixed. The Army was good--very good--at gradual change, but it was poorly prepared to handle the avalanche of change thrust upon it as the Cold War came to a close.
The necessity to reduce the Cold War-era overhead was never in question. To grow into the future, to change the Army, we had to make it smaller while keeping it ready to fight. But maintaining readiness while shrinking by more than one third--by more than 600,000--was a challenge that had never before been successfully met. What was needed was a transformation at the strategic level. Our task was to transform a successful organization, to take the best army in the world and make it the best army in a different world--a world of Somalias and Haitis and Bosnias--a world moving into the Information Age. How would we focus on a quick-changing, uncertain future?
Meet the Author
Gordon R. Sullivan was chief of staff of the U.S. Army from 1991 to 1995, culminating a distinguished military career. Professor of strategic leadership and chair of the CEO Forum of the School of Management at Boston University, he lives in Washington, D.C. Michael V. Harper was director of the Army's Strategic Planning Group from 1991 to 1995. He now runs The Harper Group, a business consulting firm. He lives in Springfield, Virginia.
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