Extract From ‘Business Leadership Under Fire’, By Pepyn Dinandt with Richard Westley OBE

There is an SAS saying that how we learn from our successes and failure is what allows us to improve, and this is what I’ve focussed on in my new book, Business Leadership Under Fire. This book is the guide I wish I could have read earlier on in my career, drawing on the benefits of hindsight; and it is rooted in the real-life experience with a down to earth approach. The clear and comprehensive nine step method will help business leaders learn about the strategies, organisational perspective and leadership tactics that I’ve seen first-hand can turn businesses around and put them ahead of their rivals.

Business Leadership Under Fire presents a practical nine-step model to help business leaders steer through times of crisis. Written with Colonel Richard Westley OBE MC, the book explores the strategic parallels between successful business leadership and the military, and outlines lessons the commercial world can take from military practice. Below you will find an extract from the Step 1. Burning Platform: Establishing Leadership.

Getting The Situation Under Control

If you are a new leader, this first step is your opportunity to introduce yourself and tell everyone a little bit about what you have done previously and about how you like to work. For an incumbent leader, the burning platform is an opportunity to re-establish your leadership credentials. Things are going to change and this is why I am the right person to lead you through that change.

Richard’s take on this from his military career, inspired by the times when he took over as a commanding officer and was faced with an entirely new battalion, is that there is a finite period of time in which to impose your personality on a situation. This applies both to the optimum amount of time available to deliver the message and to how soon a commander delivers it after being put in charge of a particular group. As for the latter, the new leader should speak as soon as possible. In the case of the former, twenty minutes is often all that is available when it comes to keeping the attention of the average soldier, who may then quickly switch to thinking about their next meal or engagement with the enemy.

If morale is not high because of what came before, or what might come next, these twenty minutes are the best opportunity a new commander will get to win everyone over to their side and their way of thinking. In terms of delivery, military leaders prioritize finding a short, punchy way to help everyone understand what they are about and what their values are. They also need to communicate that they have an understanding of the situation and are very clear about what they want everyone to do. In Richard’s case, one of the key points he always prioritized was to ensure that everyone knew that he was a leader who would reward good behaviour, but one who would also firmly deal with any bad behaviour.

Richard found a powerful way to achieve this when he took over a battalion in Afghanistan in the middle of a tour of duty. To add an extra layer of challenge, the new assignment meant he was now leading a large battle group of 650 men, split between two separate locations. He therefore had to get people together as best he could to deliver his message while accepting that not everyone could be there.
Richard did not want to sugar-coat the task ahead. This was during his second tour of Afghanistan and he was already well aware that the Taliban were the toughest enemy he had ever fought. The fighting force had a natural warlike character, a vehement dislike of foreigners on their land and an enduring belief that, if they died, they would go to a better place. He needed to convey all this to his battle group and prepare them for what lay ahead. His solution was to produce one single sheet of paper that outlined his values, his working ethos and what he wanted from his battle group. The focus was on keeping things both succinct and meaningful.

Extracted from Business Leadership Under Fire: Nine Steps to Rescue and Transform Organizations by Pepyn Dinandt with Richard Westley OBE MC (London Publishing Partnership, £19.99)

The rest of this editorial will be published at a later date.