Recently I had the pleasure to witness a brief presentation by Lieutenant General Robert Mood - fittingly in the historic surroundings of the Oscarsborg fortress in the Oslofjord. What follows are a couple of highlights from his half hour of reflections.

What struck me at first, was the humble attitude of this high-ranking, much decorated and acclaimed person. Especially because I had seen him in the news several times before, where he was not afraid to speak rather clear language about various subjects (notably, he has been awarded the Fritt Ords Pris earlier this year). He started by stating that he couldn’t teach much to others, including us, but he had a lot of experiences to share and it was up to us to draw conclusions and decide if his experiences were relevant for our situation.

He discussed a number of events from his active service in the Middle East and other locations in connection to ethical questions, like if you should return fire (or how much) when you suspect that there are civilians (children) in a building. There are no black and white answers to many of these ethical questions, so it is good to discuss ethical dilemmas before they arise and be prepared to handle them.

Leaders have to provide for that their people are able to solve the tasks that they are assigned to. It shall not fail due to lack of training or equipment. Leaders have also the responsibility to follow-up and take care of their people afterwards (debriefing, etc.).

One of the most important elements of ‘building’ a desired culture is to create a climate where it is allowed to make errors. We all do, and we must learn from them. It is important that leaders stand for their people, also when they make mistakes. Loyalty goes both ways! This is a central theme in culture, but little understood by many top-leaders. One must understand what loyalty goes up from the people to their leaders, and just as well must leaders understand what loyalty they have downwards to the people they are responsible for.

Responsibility cannot be delegated. Authority and resources can be delegated; responsibility stays with you. When soldiers are sent on a mission, they usually get objectives (general and some very concrete) along with a couple of things they shall not do. Micro-management does not work; the details they should be able to figure out themselves.

It was interesting to hear how the military had worked on their values. Not by defining them by the management team (or with some consultants), but by spending over a year and a half speaking to people at the sharp end and hearing what values they thought were important. Eventually this emerged bottom-up as the values for the organisation.

About speaking up freely, Mood gave two good guidelines:

  1. Firstly, you should be free to say what you want about your situation, your experience and your responsibility. But do not step over borders and talk about others.
  2. Secondly, do the ‘VG Test’ (VG is one of the major Norwegian newspapers, and also one of the more ‘populist’) before you speak: What would you say if you see your picture in the newspaper tomorrow and hear you self quoted? Would you think that would be all right? And what would your family (wife, mother, …) think if they saw it.

(A bit of needed context: Mood was speaking about giving opinions and statements to the media. For him it was perfectly okay to describe your horrible circumstances on a mission in Afghanistan, but you shouldn’t step in the shoes of the ministry and say that they made a dumb decision to send soldiers to Afghanistan. As an example, because there are nuances.) 


Also published at Linkedin.