‘Some shot will go straight to the target every time; some shot will explode in the barrel while some shot will ricochet in the wrong direction. Some powder will flash in the pan; some powder will flare uncontrollably while some powder will be too powerful in the usual measure. Some fuses burn too fast, others too slow; some fuses will take forever to light while other fuses self ignite.’

Look again at the first sentence in the ‘old soldier’ adage; each time you read the word ‘shot’ replace it with the name of someone you are about to entrust with leadership of a critical and probably very expensive corporate transformation / business improvement project.

Can he or she hit the target every time? Do they explode prematurely? Do they jump to the wrong conclusion and fly off in the wrong direction? Unless you are absolutely certain of the answers, you might want to rethink your leadership choice.

Now reread the second sentence of the ‘old soldier’ adage again; in similar fashion, replace the word powder with either the name of the same person or another person if the first failed the ‘shot’ test.

Do the statements ring true of the person? Do they promise action but fizzle out, do they take off in many directions at once or do they overreact? Having considered the person from the perspective of these character traits, is this the right person for the project?

Finally, reread the adage again – replace the word fuses in the third sentence with the name of whoever made it through the first two ‘tests’ or someone else you might now want to task with leading the big project.

Would the person flare up too soon, would he or she take too long to make decisions, do they have difficulty getting up to speed or do they self destruct?

Finding a person who brings the right blend of shot, powder and fuses such that the project will not blow up real good is difficult enough but, unfortunately, that is only the start.

This metaphor of shot, powder and fuses is not just relevant for leadership selection. From a wider perspective it is a metaphor that speaks to the fact that corporate transformation / business improvement projects of size/import are an amalgam of conflicting egos, political infighting, silo budgetary control, not-in-my-backyard objection, optic based decision making, special interest influences, external vendor and supplier agendas, personal preferences and individual fears – a battlefield! And; every person who has, is or will be involved in the battle brings their own shot, powder and fuses.

Across every corporate transformation battlefield; shot, powder and fuses of varying strength, quality and design can be found everywhere. Peers, supervisors, subordinates, constituents, external parties and key stakeholders all possess ammunition; often carefully hoarded and hidden – ready to fire, explode, erupt, disrupt, dilute and destroy worthy, valuable projects at a moments notice.

Far too many leaders of critical improvements act like Haig of WWI infamy, they lead from the rear, they issue orders yet take pains to remain far from the action, they keep throwing away resources and money trying to conquer insurmountable obstacles instead of looking for a way to outflank the opposition, they blame others for failure.

It is one thing to select a leader with an impressive arsenal of shot, powder and fuses to lead an important initiative; it is another thing entirely if that person’s idea of leadership does NOT include stepping out into the perils of no-man’s land and braving the shot that comes from every direction including that which nowadays is termed ‘friendly fire’!

If you would like to learn more about the seminar themes I speak to, types of consulting engagements and research that underpins my thinking, feel free to browse my web presence at http://www.TLIRGroup.com

John Bolden

Transformation Leadership, Innovation & Research

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