Commentary - Lessons from the O Group

As a junior officer in the military I had to assimilate the ten fundamental principles of leadership before I would be allowed to take on responsibility for the lives of my assigned men. These principles have been studied, analyzed and reinforced throughout history (a fact we were reminded of frequently) and they work!

In every O Group – the setting where orders were relayed down the chain of command – the principles were deliberately applied and adapted, often to the significant benefit of those whose lives depended upon them.

There are strong enough parallels between the military and business that these principles would bear critical examination by business leaders, so here they are as best I can recall them after so many years.

  1. The Objective is paramount – referring to the importance of communicating vital information to every person involved. Each Objective was broken down into sub or interim objectives right down to the individual level and nothing else happened until this was absolutely clear. If things didn’t go as expected a court of inquiry would trace the breakdown of this process as a first move.
  2. Be fully informed and aware – which requires that you seek out the best available information on the enemy’s strength, disposition and intentions; alert to friendly and neutral forces which could assist you and, above all, aware of your own realities and critical status.
  3. Take the Offensive whenever possible – which means that you attack whenever you can, only adopting a defensive strategy as a last resort. Few have achieved victory by waiting for it to come to them, playing safe and adopting a passive posture.
  4. Keep It Simple, Sir (KISS) – this means elegance in execution (an absence of unwarranted complexity) rather than primitive strategies; it means doing all you have to do in the most effective and efficient way possible with the least possible cost in terms of lives and resources.
  5. Concentrate your forces – the enemy or target will always have a vulnerable spot – find it and focus your assault at this point, employing every resource you can to secure victory at first attempt; you probably won’t get a second chance, so do it right the first time.
  6. Be flexible and manoeuvre – this refers to being responsive to changing circumstances, open to opportunities as they present themselves, adaptable in the face of the unexpected and always receptive to alternative thinking; learn, from every situation and in real time.
  7. Secure your flanks – ensure that you work openly and constructively with others who are working on parallel objectives, those who are working in support of you, and as an unassailable and bonded team within your own ranks; your wingman has your life in his hands and you have his.
  8. Secure your Lifelines – guard against surprise by anticipating the enemy’s condition and expect the unexpected; then consider what the enemy has failed to anticipate, what you might have omitted and what could hurt you or increase your vulnerabilities. 
  9. Unity of Command – know who is in charge, who has the authority to amend your orders and who does not; there has to be absolute clarity at every level of activity and for every sub-objective so that leadership roles can be transferred seamlessly and without dispute
  10. Surprise is your most powerful weapon – do what the enemy expects but not when he expects it; be as unpredictable as conditions allow and consciously build your options at every turn so that you’re able to respond spontaneously with the highest impact.

I never had cause to question these ten principles! Think on them!