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Applying Battle-Tested Leadership Principles to Corporate Renewal

Left to right, Peter A.S. Pfeiffer with retired U.S. Army officers  Col. Al Fracker, Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, and Brig. Gen. Ernest C. Audino

TMA Connecticut Chapter President David Weinstein, CTP, said you could hear a pin drop as more than 100 attendees listened to three former senior U.S. Army officers discuss “Adaptation and Innovation” during a seminar at the New Haven Lawn Club on the Yale University campus.

The event was the third in a series focusing on “Leadership Under Pressure as it Relates to Corporate Renewal” and overseen by Josh Cohen, the chapter’s vice president of programming. It drew more than 100 attendees and featured three retired U.S. Army officers: Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, author of “Adapt or Die: Leadership Principles from an American General;” Brig. Gen. Ernest C. Audino, a senior military fellow at the London Center for Policy Research and senior vice president of military market development at Raydon Corporation; and Col. Al Fracker, an independent training consultant who previously instructed soldiers at Fort Benning on advanced situational awareness and coalition forces in Afghanistan on insider threat, situational awareness.

Each officer offered a unique perspective on applying leadership principles under pressure as he was questioned by Peter A.S. Pfeiffer, a Connecticut Chapter board member and national leader for RSM’s Veteran’s Diversity and Inclusion initiative. Lynch served in Kosovo and later as spokesman for the Multi-National Force – Iraq, often referred to as coalition forces, from 2005 to 2006. He also commanded the 3rd Infantry Division from 2006 to 2008 and deployed the division to Iraq as part of the troop surge. He shared his perspectives on leading the surge, instituting a focus on the family at Fort Hood, and undertaking a restructuring process necessitated by a reduction in the Army’s budget to $12 billion from $20 billion.

Key takeaways from Lynch included developing the proper attitude when faced with a daunting task such as the surge, which carried life and death consequences and little time to react, and getting buy-in from across all segments of the chain of command when dealing with major transitioning efforts associated with the budget reductions. He discussed managing by walking around when he commanded Fort Hood, Texas, and listening not just to soldiers but also to their families in relation to dealing with the stress of change and uncertainty. Using these subtle leadership traits, Lynch accomplished the mission in each case. 

Audino considers his most significant assignment as an Army officer to have been his service in Iraq, where he commanded a team of combat advisors embedded with an Iraqi Army brigade that conducted counterinsurgency operations and consisted entirely of Peshmerga, the military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. He said those at the ground level understand they are responsible for the “how” in getting a job done. However, not only do they need to know the “what” in terms of the mission, they also need to know the “why.” Too often, people are directed to take action without understanding why, which potentially cripples adaptation and innovation in how the task is achieved, Audino said.

Audino also shared what to do if a mission goes poorly. “First thing is, look at the leader. Did he communicate effectively?” From there, an “after action report” with details from all levels of participants is completed to understand what happened. Inevitably, something that needs to be improved can be identified.

Fracker focused on dealing with the speed and volume of technology-driven data while under pressure. On the battlefield, military leaders are inundated with data generated by increasingly sophisticated technology, and they must quickly assess all of this input and determine the best next steps. This is much the same for today’s corporate leaders, who can become too overwhelmed with information to act quickly. Fracker shared filters and triangulation techniques that can be used to help eliminate “noise” and focus on what is needed for mission-critical action, whether on the battlefield or in the C-suite.

Fracker also reminded the audience to “not let the plan get in the way of the mission.” In other words, he often sees people who feel as though they are more successful following an agreed upon plan rather than adapting, innovating, and making the changes necessary to accomplish the mission at hand.

Peter A.S. Pfeiffer


Peter A.S. Pfeiffer is the Northeast regional managing business development director at RSM US LLP, a member of the TMA Connecticut Chapter Board of Directors, and a member of TMA Global’s Board of Trustees. He also is national leader for his firm’s Stars & Stripes Employee Network Group, which encourages the recruitment, retention, and success of veterans and military service members.

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