On Leadership and Economic Combat

Parachuting Managers

The recent trend has moved toward ‘parachuting’ successful managers into troubled zones as a quick, easy way to improve performance. 

However, the analogy between combat and performance management doesn’t stop at ‘parachuting.’

Economic Combat

When it comes to making a point memorable, it is often recommended to build compelling illustrative word-pictures to communicate effectively. So, below I am using word-pictures from vivid illustrations in combat to help show how to better understand performance management.

Missing in Action

The extraction of a high performing manager from their normal area of business on a special mission will be a motivating and rewarding factor for a short period of time.

However, as they assist one platoon, their former colleagues may well become de-motivated with their figurehead missing in action; resulting in  the performance of the home regiment starting to wane and suffer.


The “paratrooper” may start to fatigue.  We all like a challenge but prefer ‘stress’ in short bursts to ensure optimal personal performance.   Sustained exposure to such pressure will lead to battle fatigue and the leader will start to become disillusioned and disheartened.

Effect on Morale

The deployment of star troopers in someone else’s platoon is going to have a negative impact on morale – the standing leader will most likely  resent the external interference.  This is the military equivalent to “boots on the ground.”

The receiving team may also be suspicious of the motives.  This will be worsened if there is a lack of a clear remit and boundaries, leaving mission creep a very real possibility.

Withdrawing the Special Forces

The last pitfall comes when the parachutist is extracted. If the remit has been to improve performance they’ve likely achieved this however  unless they’ve ‘up-skilled’ the local commander, performance will nosedive when they leave.

Combat Strategy

 Leaders and managers have 3 responsibilities:

  • Short term
  • Medium term
  • Long term

Parachuting high performing managers into low performing areas will have a positive impact in the short-term.

You need to think about is the medium and long-term.  How do you make this short tour of duty productive and constructive?  This is where  many recent military missions have hit hard times.

The first goal is to improve performance. Clear objectives, goals and timescales will make sure both the “green beret” and the ground commander are aware of organisational expectations.


Make sure everyone in the ‘drop zone’ is aware of the mission through clear and open communication.  Involve them in discussions about performance and expectations and make sure they understand their role and remit in achieving these.

Create alliances and makes changes with them and not to them.

Coach and Mentor

No point sorting peripheral issues – get the root cause.  Use this time to coach / mentor the ground commander so they’re aware of what you’re doing or planning to do, why and what you expect to achieve as a result of it.

Help them understand what works and why.  This will build sustainable, improved performance in the medium and long-term.

Coaching and mentoring should be part of a much wider learning strategy which is properly designed; deployed and evaluated to ensure the objectives in relation to personnel are met as well as improving organisational performance.

Have an Exit Strategy

Be very clear on the timescales and stick to them.  If there’s no improvement in the agreed timescale, go to Plan B because Plan A clearly isn’t working.  Clear objectives and timescales will also avoid mission-creep.

Use Your Crack Team Sparingly

These people likely have a full-time role within your organisation already and will not appreciate being ‘dropped’ all over the organisation to sort out personnel and performance issues.

Remember this is your elite team, they also require regular training and skills updates; personal development and team bonding time with their own troops, so use them sparingly and only where other strategies have failed.


Speak to everyone involved, capture feedback and learning points and incorporate these into future missions then bring the mission to a formal close.


My goal in this communique is to illustrate, in stark terms, what it means to be an effective leader within an organization during stressful times. In any given period, people in organizations need to work in concert to perform tasks that achieve operational objectives so that something great is achieved. Combat, war, and confrontation are poignant examples of meeting these challenges.

So, what type of economic challenges is your organization facing now? How are you leading your troops in these times? Are you effective in your efforts, or are you facing imminent demise? How does looking at organizational challenges through the lens of combat help you gain perspective on “your battlefield” of daily work? I would love to hear your thoughts!

Colin Millar is Operations Manager for the CRBS in Scotland
He is an Official Ambassador of the Chartered Management Institute and EFQM Business Excellence Practitioner & Assessor

Email | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Skype: colin_b_millar

Image Sources: actualitte.com

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