American flags wave from homes, cars, and highway overpasses. Operation Anaconda rocked, even if Osama Bin Laden isn't yet caught (or his body yet recovered). Such movies as Saving Private Ryan, Pearl Harbor, and We Were Soldiers let us relive history with the men and women who made it. And since U.S. forces were deployed to Afghanistan in November 2001, along with troops from allied countries, the military has been much in the forefront of our collective consciousness.
The armed forces of the United States have long been known as an exemplary model of leadership, teamwork, and communication. Many corporate training practices are taken from or inspired by military models. The U.S. Army is even at the forefront of e-learning, demonstrating how information can be shared from one deployment to another across the boundaries of time and space.
Although tempered somewhat by the slowdown in the economy and reduced capital spending, there has been increased corporate interest in military-inspired training programs since last fall. In March, Inc. magazine credited "renewed patriotism and interest in all things military" with helping one of those offerings, Afterburner Seminars, achieve its current numbers: 212 percent ahead of budget for FY2002 at the end of April.
Numerous options abound for corporate trainers wanting to bring the lessons of the military home to businesspeople on the ground. Here's an overview of just a few.
For a mostly intellectual and historical exercise, there's the Leadership Experience, offered by The Conference Board in collaboration with the department of behavioral sciences and leadership at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York. Sited in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the program offers participants the opportunity to visit the scenes of important battles and learn about the strategy used by the generals commanding the action there. Designed for senior executives, Leadership Experience draws upon the tradition of "staff rides" conducted by the Army.
Longstanding staples of military practice, staff rides are an early example of experiential learning. Late in the 19th century, armies began visiting old battlefields to analyze decisions and their consequences. Leaders, staff members, and facilitators would visit together, creating a team-building experience focused on problems encountered in actual battle.
"The strategy of the battle is the most important story," explains Brian Hackett, senior research associate at The Conference Board and creator of the program. "We use it as an example to get to what companies are dealing with now. We focus less on the terrain and more on the people, but you can't understand decisions until you see the ground."
Lt. Col. Greg Dardis, director of leadership and management studies at West Point and leader of the program, notes that there has always been a great deal of interest in the site visits but acknowledges that it has increased in the past few months. Dardis's goal is to extend learning "from battlefields to boardrooms," and to "develop leaders of competence and character."
Gettysburg was chosen because its familiar to many Americans, Dardis says, and because the whole battlefield can be seen within a day. As participants walk the scene of the action, they're able to "put themselves into the shoes of the decision makers," he says --leaders such as Generals Mead and Lee, who were known as tactical, strategic leaders. Dardis learns a great deal beforehand about his participants' challenges and companies, and tailors the learning objectives as much as he can. (A longer program is also offered in Normandy, France.)
One key lesson of the battlefield visits is the meaning of intent. As Hackett notes, Once the action starts, strategy often goes out the window." That's why it's important for team members to understand their commander's (or boss's) intent, rather than his or her plan. …