Leadership Lessons: Battle of Jena 1806

I was at a leadership event at Birmingham Business School a fortnight ago, and one of the speakers mentioned this battle. I am ashamed that I cannot name him in the absence of the promised slides.

The battle is not well-known in Britain, and took place between Napoleon and Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia. The Prussians were defeated, and their shattered armies captured over the following weeks, the French entered Berlin, and Prussia was replaced as France’s major enemy by Russia.

This was not just a battle with huge consequences for Prussia, but a turning point in German history.

Why did the Prussians lose so badly? Firstly, they were overconfident, and were hide bound in their tactics. Secondly, command was divided, and the commanders had to hold meetings to decide what to do. Thirdly, having not decided what to do, their quasi-feudal command structure gave little initiative to commanders on the ground.

By contrast, although Napoleon was in overall charge, and could command the entire army, he gave a degree of autonomy to his generals, enabling them to act swiftly and decisively to the situation in front of them. This had its downside – Marshall Bernadotte was almost sacked on the spot because he did not join in the fight.

As a result of such a crushing defeat, the Prussian army reformed itself to such good effect that Prussia and then Germany became the major European military power. They also studied French tactics, particularly their quick deployment, refining this into the concept of Blitzkrieg. That in turn was studied by the British and Americans after 1945.

What has this to do with running a law firm post Legal Services Act? Recognise that things are not like they were, your “enemy” is different, and so are their tactics. Decide your plan, and do not hold interminable meetings. Move swiftly. Delegate the power to act within the plan. Above all, do not pretend that there is no attack on you.


Unexpected Lawyers: Roger Bushell

The first in an occasional series about people who I did not realise were lawyers.

Roger Bushell is not a well-known name, yet his deeds are a staple of British Christmas television schedules in the film “The Great Escape.”

Born in South Africa, Bushell attended Wellington College, then Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he took a law degree. Later he was called to the Bar. In between, he was a keen skier and learned to fly.

Having been shot down over France, he was captured. His first escape ended with his capture a few hundred yards from the Swiss border. The second ended after 7 months hiding in Czechoslovakia. His third escape was as part of the Great Escape, which he organised as “Big X”. The aim was to get 200 officers out of the camp, in order to soak up German resources to recapture them. 76 escaped, of whom 50 (including Bushell) were subsequently shot by the Gestapo.

So next time you watch the film, remember that the Richard Attenborough character is loosely based on a lawyer. I wonder what he would have achieved, had he survived.

“His name will ever last in my memory as one of the greatest men of his generation. He was an outstanding leader of men, quite fearless and he had a very fine brain…”

Does your Coach tell you what to do?

This is one of those “what is coaching” questions that is understandably asked.

All coaches find themselves coaching decision making, indeed the whole purpose of coaching is to enable you to make their own decisions and to carry them through. The coach is not an expert in either your business or your life. You, of course, are. To use a Rugby coaching analogy, you have to play what’s in front of you.

What your coach will do is to help you structure your decision, and to weigh up the criteria that you will use to make it. They may also suggest resources or tools that others have found valuable in similar circumstances, leaving it to you to decide whether to adopt them or not. The coach will support you in carrying your decision through.

You are an adult who takes responsibility for your actions. A professional  coach will not treat you as a child.

Successful Business 2012 Offer

As promised in yesterday’s post, I am marking America’s Small Business Saturday by spending money in my own local High Street in the UK, but also with a limited special offer.

For only 10 UK small businesses, I am prepared to offer a one hour Successful Business 2012 Coaching Session for nothing. But you must sign up before 5 pm on Tuesday 29th November.

In the session, we will discuss your business in a structured way, and by the end you will have greater clarity over what you want to achieve in your business in 2012.

The sessions can be face to face if you are based in Birmingham, otherwise by telephone.  They must take place before the end of January 2012. There is no obligation to take any further coaching.

To sign up, use the form below. Remember you must do so before 5 pm on Tuesday 29th November.


Small Business Saturday, 26th November

In the USA, Small Business Saturday falls this weekend. Consumers are encouraged, on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, to spend something in small shops. This will only be its second year, but according to American Express, which founded it, last year businesses saw an increase of 28% in sales turnover over the same day in 2009.

I have no connection with the American version, but it would be wonderful if everyone in Britain could do the same here! So get out there on Saturday and spend something with a small business that you would not otherwise have done. That could be anything from a bar of chocolate through your fruit & veg. to a pair of shoes. Or you could grab a coffee from the local cafe rather than your usual chain, or have your first pint at the local.

It can work in all kinds of ways. If you have a prescription, take it to the independent pharmacy rather than the chain. If you keep thinking about making a will, phone a solicitor to make an appointment (try Friday, though).

And you could even do it all online, such as at “The Oldest Record Shop in the World.”

Me? I will visit the butcher and the greengrocer in my local High Street, which I do not normally do. I will also make a never before made offer to small business owners via this blog at 10 am tomorrow – so watch this space.

First 90 Days – What is Success?

In aiming for early wins, and in the longer term, it is important to know what you are trying to achieve. Of course, you cannot decide this in a vacuum. Quite apart from any consequences to customers or colleagues, it is vital that you and your boss are of the same mind. The best way to ensure this is to talk to them.

This is also the time to deal with any differences in style. If, for example, you take a team approach and your boss is more hierarchical, they may mark you down on stylistic issues. This is not deliberate, but more that the potential results will be hidden from them because you are not doing the job the way they would do it. It is therefore important to point out these differences, and to negotiate enough time to start to deliver tangible results.

The worst thing that you can do with your boss is to overpromise and underdeliver. You therefore need to agree some realistic goals, and enough time to deliver them. This presupposes that you have negotiated time to make a proper assessment of what needs to be done.