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Charismatic Leadership

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Tom Cruise has plenty of fans, many of whom would "follow him" anywhere.  Does that make him an effective leader?

Tom Cruise has plenty of fans, many of whom would “follow him” anywhere. Does that make him an effective leader?

The Rebel Gorilla interpretation of Leadership does not include popularity or charisma.  Too often when someone in a supervisory position is well liked by superiors, peers and/or subordinates they are considered good “Leaders”.  That quality, a “Leader”, is too precious to trivialize it thusly.  I can certainly understand how being charismatic or popular can be helpful to someone who aspires to be a “leader”, but it is not necessary for a leader to be popular or even liked.  I don’t think Old Iron Guts, General Patton, was liked by many people, but he was certainly well respected by his peers, superiors and the enemy for that matter, and his troops would follow him anywhere.

Interpersonal skills are important for anybody who acts in a supervisory capacity. For that matter, it is important that everybody on the team can get along with others!

Interpersonal skills, the green that binds the Command Model, are important for anybody who acts in a supervisory capacity. For that matter, it is important that everybody on the team can get along with others!

Don’t get me wrong, interpersonal skills are very important for anybody and everybody, especially those in supervisory positions.  Qualities like Emotional Intelligence are certainly relevant in the workplace.  In fact a recent article in the Financial Post actually asserted that neither the skills nor the education of a person is an accurate predictor of career success, but one’s emotional IQ is.  That said, I would submit that many of the most extraordinary leaders in history had the Emotional Intelligence of Michelangelo’s David, but there were other reasons why people followed them.

It goes without saying that one can have a very successful career, enjoying stature, wealth and privilege with zero leadership skill by any measure.  To the contrary, in fact, being too overt or uncompromising as a leader can have a deleterious effect on one’s career.  I am confident, however, that the highly successful careerists among us would have done much better had they taken a Rebel Gorilla outlook on leadership.  More importantly, the community would be much better served by Gorilla leadership.


Corporal (retired) William Ayotte (1957 – 2014)

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Corporal (retired) William Ayotte and I go back to The PPCLI Battle School in Wainwright Alberta in 1981.  Bill was a brand new recruit and I was a brand new, easily excitable and overly enthusiastic recruit platoon commander. Bill did not have the outward appearance of a war-fighter, so I tried my hardest to break him.  It wasn’t anything personal, it was just that if he wasn’t cut out to be a soldier it was better to discover that in training than in combat somewhere.  Every time Bill screwed up, which was often in the early days, he owed the staff push-ups, probably around 25 for each infraction.  As a raw recruit he could barely do the requisite minimum, but he certainly build his capacity for them, and his strength.  Bill had a strange penchant for doing his push-ups on his fingertips, a brutal test of strength if you have ever tried to do them that way.

That is not to say that we just bullied him, his instructors put in extra hours to get him through.  One of Bill’s Section Commanders at the Battle School Grant Treger reminisced about Bill, sharing the same respect for him that I did.  Grant remembers getting Bill ready for the final drill test, marching Bill around the drill hall for hours in the evening, holding 2 broom handles between the two of them so Grant could get Bill to swing his arms properly when he marched. Sounds funny, but “Bear Walking” is a common affliction amongst new recruits, it just took a little longer to break Bill of the tendency.

As we neared the graduation parade, Bill was making the grade but had the appearance of still needing some polish.  I found myself being set-upon by my Section Commanders, telling me in no uncertain terms that I had to fail Bill Ayotte because there was no way they were going to have their names associated with him back in the Battalion. It felt like I was facing a near mutiny.  I threw it back in their faces.  I reminded them of how hard we rode Bill Ayotte, and when we reviewed Bills file and it was clear we had plenty of opportunities to fail Wild Bill, but we didn’t. Not only did Bill pass every practical TOET (test of elementary training) and overcome the many challenges that we threw at him, in fact he had the highest marks on all the theory tests. Moreover, it was obvious not only that Bill would do anything for members of the platoon, but they were constantly watching his six too and would never hesitate to help him out when Bill was in a bind!

In the Battalion he became a competitive marksman, ran like a gazelle, and liked to party hard with his comrade.  Bill had his own table staked out full time in the Work Point Junior Ranks Club. He was, without a doubt, one of the hardest working team players I ever had the pleasure to work with, he would have done anything for his comrades.  One of my fondest memories in the Battalion was during a field training exercise in Fort Ord California.  At the time we were using the very first generation laser engagement simulators which, when we engaged in a gun fight gave us an idea of how many casualties the enemy inflicted on us, and vice versa.  We all took this training very, very seriously as it gave us a vivid rendering of our personal field craft skills and tactical prowess.

The US troops, our enemy force, were more familiar with this piece of kit and we were taking our licks early on.  At one point Bill was participating in a Section attack when they became pinned down in the enemy’s kill zone.  Bill’s Section Commander couldn’t get the momentum of the attack re-started and Bill’s comrades were getting picked off, one by one.  You will have no idea of how intense this kind of training experience, even though it pales in comparison to a real gunfight,  unless you have been part of a MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement simulator) exercise.  Up sprang Bill with his FNC2-A1 rifle and ran head-long at the enemy position.  Firing from the hip at a full gallop Bill cleared the enemy to allow his comrades to press on, but became a casualty himself.  This event may seem trite to some, but it left me with no doubt that Bill would have done as much in an actual engagement.

We parted ways in 1986 when Bill left with A Company 3PPCLI to augment 2PPCLI who had just relieved 1RCR in Germany. We never saw hide-nor-hair of each other until 2003 when we bumped into each other completely out of the blue. Bill had left the CF shortly after his deployment to Germany, became a psychiatric nurse, and took over the stewardship of the APPLE (A Post Psychiatric Leisure Experience) Drop-In Centre. As the Director he kept the doors open by applying for grants and soliciting donations, created a sanctuary and organized special events for people who really need the help of a kind soul, and even invited some of his Drop-In Centre guests along on vacations with his wife, Judith. As such, Judith was much more than a wife, she was Bill’s soul mate, his partner at the APPLE Centre, and his Residential Sergeant Major. Bill used to ‘snicker’ when he would tell me how she kept him on the straight-and-narrow. As compassionate and courteous as Bill was, he was a hard, hard charger, so much so that in our younger days I used to call him “Wild Bill”. It took a special lady to tame that stallion!

We all know, looks can be deceiving. Bill’s skills, knowledge and attitude were what soldiering is all about, and he was the embodiment of the Mission-Team-Self ethos that characterizes the military.  In a way I am not proud of having made life so difficult for Bill back in Wainwright in 1981, but I am as proud as hell for having had the privilege of working with a man of Bill’s character.  He never became Chief of Defence Staff, was never elected to public office, and wasn’t the CEO of a company being paid gobs of money but, that notwithstanding, Corporal (retired) Bill Ayotte was a Gorilla Leader of the highest order.  He saw a need in the community that needed filling, and through his heart and soul into it.  He was as proud of his APPLE Centre and his clientele as any RSM is of the Battalion and the troops.

“Wild Bill” passed away in his sleep 2 May 2014, at the young age of 57.  Thank you Bill, for your service to Canada both in the CF and again as the director of the APPLE Centre, and for the example you offered of what leadership is all about.  You were truly a bright light in my journey to become a combat leader myself, and you will be missed by many.

Stand Easy, my Friend!


General George S Patton, United States Army

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patton2Before I joined the Canadian Forces I was not very knowledgeable about the military.  Admittedly, I joined the Canadian Forces to get a university degree at the Royal Military College of Canada.  If it was movies like “The Devil’s Brigade” that inspired me to join the infantry after graduation, it was the movie “Patton” that shaped my attitude towards being an officer and combat leader.  In fact, in 1987 just before departing on the Canadian Army Command and Staff College as a young Captain, I mainlined the movie several times from beginning to end just to get my game face on for the course.  It was actually at Fort Frontenac in Kingston, Ontario, where I was first introduced to the writings of General Patton.  I took the book “War as I Knew It” and found it to be every bit as compelling as the movie, and like the movie I read the book several times.  I swear, I almost committed it to memory.  Thus began a phase of enlightenment for me, as I continued in my quest to become a combat leader.

 Mounds have been written about General George S Patton.  Indeed, his military philosophies and practices have even become a literary focus in the domains of business and management.  I have read a fair amount about him from a variety of sources and, although I do not consider myself to be an expert on the man and the leader, I can say categorically that his example made a tremendous impression on me and my attitude towards officership and combat leadership.  Patton’s insights on life and the profession of arms are as profound as his persona was flamboyant.  As an officer, Patton was not about going to war, he was about winning wars.  He was both critical and creative in his approach to his profession, having identified the net worth of the tank in contemporary warfare of the day and prepared the troops under his charge mentally, physically, spiritually and collectively for the legendary campaigns in which they would engage in North Africa and Europe.  

In his approach to his profession, as his approach to life, he was ambitious but selfless.  Yes selfless.  He sought promotion as a grander opportunity to serve, not merely as enrichment of personal status.  Outwardly he was bold and arrogant, but that concealed a base of self doubt.  He worked very hard to overcome his fears and self-perceived frailties, adopting a cloak of, as Martin Blumenson said in “The Patton Papers”, “protective callousness” and promoting a public image that he very much strived relentlessly to embody.  He once mused something to the effect that the higher he rose in rank the less confident he became.  That is not surprising because, in the tradition of Gorilla Leaders, he was blazing a trail to victory through a forest of constipated contemporary thought, self-serving opportunists and glory seekers, masters of managing and manipulating the status quo.  

Patton made his share of enemies, but he also had his share of fans.  He got the name “Blood and Guts” out of respect from not the adulation of his subordinates, who would sometimes complain “Our blood but his guts”.  Never-the-less, the troops under his command would follow him into the vey gates of hell because they knew he was a war winner!  Patton’s arrogance even annoyed his superiors, Eisenhower and Bradley, but they had to have him on their team.  Patton was singled out by his adversaries  as a foe to be feared, his mere whereabouts as a commander being a decisive consideration in the German’s defences for D-Day.

As much as Patton had an ego the size of a house, he had a sensitive side.  Patton was not above apologizing for his misdeeds, as he did during the Italian campaign after having assaulted a soldier who had succumbed to battle stress.  Patton’s detractors would argue that he did so only to protect his command, which may be so.  The fact remains that he acknowledged that he did not do the right thing, and he made the admission very publicly.  In one of the best reads on Patton, Gen. Patton’s Principles for Life and Leadership, author Porter B. Williamson describes the sensitive side of Patton.  Patton insisted that a commander should never ask his troops to do something that they would not do themselves, and he lived up to that.  Patton recognized the value of every person under his command and the lessons that everyone could learn from each other.  Williamson also describes how Patton wept at the thousands of lives that he felt were lost needlessly due to the “pussy-footing” delays in pursuing the enemy.

It is not possible to do justice to such a complex and gifted leader of the 20th Century in this blog.  Moreover, I wouldn’t expect tomorrow’s leaders should spend too much time studying the exploits of a single, accomplished and acknowledged leader as I did as a young officer.  It is worth having a look at Charles M. Province’s “Patton’s One-Minute Messages” to familiarize oneself with some of the philosophies and principles that Patton contributed to the concept of Gorilla Leadership.



Steve Jobs

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Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, a great read about a leadership icon that we can all learn from.  P@

Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, a great read about a leadership icon that we can all learn from. P@

Around the time I left the military Steve Jobs was being hailed for his amazing lifelong accomplishments.  Sadly he was also terminally ill.  Coincidentally, though, a great deal was being written about the man and many of the titles about the legend ended up under our Christmas tree addressed to me.  Up until that point of my life the majority of my personal study had been focused on military subjects, and most of the leaders I had read about were military.  Thanks to the gifts from Santa and my family I was quickly immersed in a review of Steve Jobs’s life from the perspective of several different authors.  What immediately struck me was that the descriptions of the leadership attributes of Steve Jobs were very similar to those that I had attributed to the leaders from past wars whom I admired and respected.  You can accuse me of reverse-engineering this — because I did — but Steve Jobs personified the theory of Rebel Gorilla Leadership that I had been formulating from my military background.

Gorilla Leadership is about the inspired accomplishments of the team!

Gorilla Leadership is about the inspired accomplishments of the team!

Steve Jobs created one of the largest, if not the largest, technology companies in history — certainly the richest, neck and neck with Exxon in the day.  He was tech savvy, but he was not a technician and he would not have amounted to anything were it not for the scientists, engineers and real smart folks he had a habit of becoming associated with, starting with Steve Wozniak who invented the first Apple computers.  Jobs was charismatic, but he could also be a prick to work for.  From what I have read, that is very much an understatement.  Nevertheless he had a committed army that would follow him anywhere, for whatever reason.

While Mr Jobs is famous for his accomplishments with Apple, his professional life had its ups and downs.  Jobs had been the point man at Apple and championed personally the legendary television commercial in January 1984 that launched the tech company into stardom; however, he was subsequently forced out ofthe company he founded.  He went on to start up NeXT computers, high-end workstations that were to be marketed directly to universities and colleges.  That went belly up, but not before Jobs went onwards and upwards “To Infinity and Beyond” with Pixar Studios.  He actually failed there too, with a foray into computing hardware, but managed to steer the studio into creating the classic Toy Story computer animated feature films.  Jobs would return to Apple, the company he founded, which by then was kind of floundering itself, and the rest is history.

Steve Jobs: “It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.

Sure, Jobs may have been a prick to work for, but he harnessed an amazing team of talent and inspired them to accomplishments that serve a massive community.  There are iPods, iPhones and/or iPads and copycats everywhere and anywhere you look.  Like my hero Patton, master of the mechanized battlefield, Jobs was ahead of his time.  He was anything but a slave to orthodoxy and group think, rather an example of the relationship between leadership and innovation.  He had the courage to expose himself and his seemingly wild-assed ideas to the criticism and even ridicule of everyone, but always put the mission above all else.  Importantly, he had the courage to persevere in the face of the adversity that confronted him, which he could be accused of having ocassionally stirred up himself.  I am thankful he was so courageous, because this iMac that I am writing this blog on sure makes my job and my passion much, much easier and more enjoyable!

While his life story certainly characterizes my personal principles that I now promote as “Gorilla Leadership”, Steve Jobs is directly responsible for the whole Rebel Gorilla concept.  After my 30 year career that climaxed on the distant outer fringe of the highest echelons of Canada’s military and government institutions, it was the words of Steve Jobs that summed up the Way of the Leader, when he said “It’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.”  I will be playing around with and examining that assertion in The Book of Shadows”.