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Guiding Principles for the Year of the Dragon

Commentary by Stephen Heck



�It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.�       
     J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of Lord of the Rings             


�War is the unfolding of miscalculations�
Barbara Tuchman, American Author of The Guns of August


We have now entered into one of the most auspicious years in the Chinese Zodiac.  The Dragon is seen as the most powerful of all the animals in the zodiac and accordingly many Chinese couples have planned their weddings for this year.  It is also said that children born this year will meet with abundant good fortune throughout their lives. The Dragon, however, is a challenge for many of the other animals in the Chinese zodiac. People born under the sign of the Dragon are seen as domineering, ambitious, and highly motivated by risk taking.  Dragon people don�t generally rely on others, and while they will work with others, they will not suffer easily lesser mortals, lashing out with an explosive, scorching temper provoked or not.  Nonetheless, Dragon people are considered to be natural born leaders often with colorful personalities which sustain them whether they are in business, politics, or the military.  I think we would all agree that these three arenas share some common traits which bring out the best or the worst in leadership behavior. Whether we are leaders born under the Dragon, the Ram, the Dog or any of the nine remaining signs there are issues which we ignore at our peril.

During the Napoleonic era of the early 19th century, Carl von Clausewitz first presented his Principles of War which attempted to bring some methodology to the successful waging of war which was at the time defined by the horrendous battles waged by Napoleon�s Grand Army.  Clausewitz originally developed five principles for military strategy and tactics and over time various nations modified and expanded his treatise.  The British Army pursued this area with the most diligence and after World War I Major General John Frederick Charles Fuller wrote his �Nine Principles of War� which became the basis for most contemporary military theory. In spite of General Fuller�s unfortunate fascination with Adolf Hitler prior to World War II, his writings retained their credence, and today the United States military has fine tuned Fuller�s original nine principles and incorporated them into all officer training.  I have simplified the principles and have added brief comments in italics. The principles are:

  • Objective - Maintain clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objectives.  Without a game plan you can�t achieve your ends.  This is the most important rule! 
  • Offensive - Seize and retain the initiative at the decisive time and place.  For example, complete all projects earlier than required with superior quality.   

  • Mass - Gather all the elements of overwhelming power in the optimum location within the shortest time possible.  Having more people doesn�t guarantee success, but having enough people who are smart and well-supported logistically will win the day. 

  • Economy of Force - Engage only minimal offensive mass with secondary efforts.  In other words, don�t spend much time dealing with those issues that won�t contribute much to the overall success of your project.

  • Maneuver - Place your opponents at a disadvantage by keeping them off balance through efficient and effective maneuvering of your resources. For example, never become so predictable in your executive presentations that your colleagues dread them and try to avoid showing up for them.     

  • Unity of Command - For every objective there should be a united effort under one leader.  If you manage others make sure they know that they know that any team has only one coach.

  • Security - Never allow your opponent to acquire an unexpected advantage through surprise or hostile acts.  Heed today�s tragic lessons of business sabotage brought about through internal or external hacking.  

  • Surprise � Engage your opponents at a time, a place or in a fashion for which they have no preparation. In an organization, congratulate yourself by turning an organizational unit considered to be made up of malcontented losers into a highly energized team of achievers.     

  • Simplicity � Prepare clear and concise plans to ensure complete understanding by everyone on your team.  We all should know this one: the K.I.S.S. rule.

So whatever our sign in the Chinese zodiac, we don�t have to be concerned if our leadership style is not that of the Dragon.  We all have our unique leadership traits, but with the preceding nine principles in mind, each one of us can become a wiser manager in whatever organization we currently reside. 

May none of us find ourselves in organizations where the norm is the continuous �unfolding of �miscalculations!

Stephen J. Heck is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute.  Steve has extensive experience leading complex, multi-faceted initiatives impacting growth, operating efficiency, and overall financial performance of businesses across diverse sectors including public, private, and not-for-profit organizations. Career achievements include reengineering under-performing business operations, managing Information Technology enterprise system integration and facilitating global business expansion and growth. He has held senior positions with such organizations as Synergy Consulting in Portland, Oregon;the WiMAX Forum in Beaverton, Oregon; Humboldt State University in Arcata, California; and Metro Regional Government in Portland, Oregon. Steve gained a B.A. and Masters of Public Administration from Portland State University, Oregon. He also received a Masters of Social Work from the University of Washington in Seattle after serving as an infantryman in Vietnam. He has been a member of the Project Management Institute and IEEE, and served as Vice Chair of the Portland Police Bureau�s Citizens Advisory Board. Since 1996 Steve has been an evaluator with the Prior Learning Assessment Program at Marylhurst University in Oregon, and from 1984 to 2000 Steve was Adjunct Professor in Public Administration at the Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University in Oregon.

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