Who is Leading Your Platoon? You, Barnes, or Elias.
If you are over the age of thirty (sorry millennials) you probably remember the first time you saw the Oliver Stone movie Platoon. Platoon is a Vietnam era movie depicting one soldier’s experience while being deployed during the Vietnam Conflict. Charlie Sheen (pre-tiger blood and “winning”) played the lead character Chris Taylor. Taylor’s platoon was lead by Lieutenant Wolfe who was an inexperienced officer and a weak leader. Due to his lack of leadership many members in the platoon then sided with one of two sergeants, Barnes (Berenger) or Elias (Dafoe). Sergeant Barnes was a hardened cynical leader and ruled his followers with an iron fist and expected his men to be equally as brutal as him. On the other hand was Sergeant Elias, the laid back easy-going leader that looked at the best of each situation.
We’ve all heard the saying that “a house divided will fall,” and even the oldest military tactic is to “divide and conquer,” but how can this movie set in the jungles of Vietnam teach us a valuable lesson in the jungle of the business world? Being the lieutenant or CEO is a burdensome role in any organization. The CEO is pulled in every direction and must make sound decisions regularly or the company as a whole may perish. Just ask one of General Custer’s men. Oh, wait! Today’s CEO’s have to run a company and manage employees, hit projections to satisfy investors, and answer questions from the Board of Directors all while motivating their employees and keeping ahead of their competition. This is a heavy load and is the reason CEO’s are paid as they are. A good CEO knows that they are not capable of running every aspect of their organization and must rely on their Executive Team and managers to be able to take care of the day-to-day tasks moving the company forward. But what happens if the company has a Barnes and Elias leadership dynamic causing division in the company ranks? In a fast paced, growing business, there are plenty of external factors that can cause the downfall of a company. Having dissension internally only weakens the company that much more allowing the slightest external factor to cause major harm. General Schwarzkopf once said, “Competition is great. As long as it’s not within my unit.” What he meant was that if his unit is working as a team to beat someone else’s unit then that is great. He does not want people within his unit to work against one another to undermine the strength of his unit. Again, “a house divided will fall.” You usually see sales representatives going against this rule when they have internal competitions for the top sales agent (insert Glengarry Glen Ross movie clip, sorry again millennials).
Here is where a CEO must not be a Lieutenant Wolfe, and allow their employees to pick and choose the Sergeant they want to follow. Rather, a CEO must lead and align their Executive Team to make sure the goals and ideals of the company are well established, known, and a blueprint is in place for the team to follow. By doing this, the CEO can be certain that they can continue to work on the high level decisions knowing that their managers are in step carrying out the company’s orders. If the CEO has a Barnes or Elias that just won’t get in line and be part of the team, then it is usually in the best interest of the CEO and company to let that person go and replace them with a leader who will align with the company vision and be a team player. Now this is not to say that Executive Team members should not question the decisions and make sure that ideas are totally vetted. A little devil’s advocate is a good thing to expand ideas and think through any unintended consequences that may arise from these decisions. But once a decision is discussed and made, the team should align and implement the decision throughout their departments. Again, being a CEO in today’s turbulent global business environment is extremely treacherous and to survive a CEO must be a strong leader and make sure that their officers align and are all marching to the same beat.