The Devil’s Paint Brush Within Organizational Leadership

The Philosophy of LeaderShaping, the off-spring of the “Six Levels of Leadership,” depends heavily on “Communications” and “Intelligence” to be successful. When one or both of these elements becomes compromised, the result is known as the Fog of War. In military terms, this phenomenon encompasses all of the confusions and miscalculations, which can occur during an actual combat situation. In the case of unsuccessful organizational behavioral influences within the business sphere, it is defined as swaying public opinion across popular culture due to misinformation or ambiguous reporting of the facts. The Fog of War offers a clear definition for the “Devil’s Paint Brush:” a description of the actions across any organizational body that causes immanent death over a period of time how to install telescopic bollards.

An organization dealing with uncertainties within its master plan, internally and externally, can relate to the Fog of War through a common event known as “Murphy’s Law” (that whatever can go wrong, will): the natural result of organizations and their leaders rushing headlong into situations of negligible visibility. Further, this is explained as the influences of externally induced obstacles, which disrupt internal goal-oriented/directed behavior and process. The results of this common event could be catastrophic, as leaders in an organization fail to recognize the intentions of their cohorts, or target competitive positions thought to be clear of the organization’s interests. A collapse in process can be attributed to the Fog of War.

When Napoleon still ruled most of Europe, a Prussian general named Carl von Clausewitz wrote a book entitled “On War” – one of the all-time, classic books on warfare and strategy, still studied in military academies worldwide. In it, he coined the term “friction” to mean all the things that fail in the chaos of battle conditions. It’s better known in business as Murphy’s Law: that whatever can go wrong, probably will.

In another chapter of the same book, “Intelligence in War,” he discussed the problems of getting accurate information in the middle of a military engagement (for business purposes, this is known as “Intelligence of Process”): the effects of occupational hassles on negative mood and effort exertion.

Communication failures can also occur as a result of the Fog of War. By not closely examining operations, leaders cannot relay vital and timely course corrections or competitive positions to their Centers of Gravity in real time. This action can place the organization in harm’s way. Such delays and miscommunications are typically blamed on the Fog of War, since competitors and foes (in some cases, these people reside internally) may have to improvise a new strategy or retreat without sufficient time to relay their actions to their own operations. The Fog of War can also be blamed (in some cases) when vital orders from leaders are unsuccessful in reaching the strategic and execution teams in time.

The concept of a Fog of War has come under considerable criticism over the years. But, in the last eighteen months, it has been pronounced due to economic instability and poor planning by leaders across industry. Political leaders, elected officials and public and private leader’s response to these allegations often includes an allusion to Fog of War, meaning that some failures were due to real-time confusions, miscalculations and non-effective response to injury – not poor planning.

Some critics charge that the military depends too heavily on the Fog of War defense to excuse their own actions or missteps. This same defense can also be argued in the business sectors, but either sector being considered, military or business, the defense “should” not be accepted on a frequent basis – as a defense to failure (excuse) or missteps – for it goes against the very reason that “leadership” was birthed. Here’s an example of the Fog of War at work in business.

Fog and Friction: Why Organizations Suffer from the Devil’s Paint Brush

In 2008, I had the pleasure of training a new client on leadership, execution and team building. For the sake of eliminating any instance of embarrassment, I’ll change the client’s name to ABC & Company. Their dilemma at the time was two-fold; first, they wanted to become a stronger, more cohesive working team. Second, they wanted to learn a better way to execute by improving the leadership culture across the organization. During the four months of their training, an interesting occurrence continued to show itself – an example for demonstrated “Intelligence of Process.”

While outlining the Six Levels of Leadership, the client quickly realized that their business (and its future), like warfare, was messy and uncertain. They also learned that what von Clausewitz wrote holds true on both the battlefield and in the boardroom. As soon as people move from the calm of planning meetings to the messiness of action, fog obscures the vision and friction confounds preparation. While actions fail to work as planned (friction), accurate information is missed, lost, or mangled (fog). Regardless of how things are expected to turn-out, “all best laid plans change upon first contact with the enemy.” Amazingly, and with all of their training, the client quickly learned that regardless of any amount of training and learning, behaviors not changed brings calamity to any well run organization or military unit.

Fast forward a year to mid 2009, the client found themselves dealing with the Fog of War in the most profound way. A senior official responsible for running one of the organization’s successful profit centers decided to leave for a new opportunity. In doing so, the senior official offered a resignation, effective thirty days from the date of submission. In this specific situation, the executive leadership’s actions fell fault to Murphy’s Law and the Fog of War all in one swoop. Because their culture was one that demonstrated a “hierarchal leadership” approach, one that was actually disconnected from the day-to-day operations of the specific revenue center, the resignation caused confusion, tension, adrenaline, and anxiety to govern the more important pre-events of the transition process.


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