The Centuries-Old Secret to Effective Management

Arvind David – Vice President, Digital Experience

3-minute read time

Originally Posted By Arvind David on LinkedIn

From a very young age, the armed forces fascinated me. Most of my father’s side had done their service, and I was very eager to continue the same tradition. It would have been my chosen career path without my father discouraging me from it due to bad experiences.

My uncle guided me down the path of technology. Even then, I dreamt of maybe being an engineer in the armed forces as family members went down that path. However, it wasn’t meant to be.

Even though he discouraged me from joining the armed forces, my dad would bring his military friends to our house to share their lessons. These lessons played a massive part in molding me as an employee and an employer. The importance of being a team player and being prepared were drilled into me every single day.

I would wake up to the phrase “Aaj Muqabla Hoga,” which means “today there will be war.” This simple phrase means that you step out of bed, ready to face anything and everything the world may throw at you today, both good and bad. I was always taught to wake up and make my bed. I was constantly urged to try and beat my alarm clock as it gives you the sense of a small victory to begin the day. When you come back home after a tiresome day, there will be a well-made bed to welcome you, and that in itself is a certain solace. I urge you all to try it every day and feel the difference.

My dad taught me a few things when I decided to quit my comfortable corporate job and venture into the dark and murky world of entrepreneurship (if anyone tells you that entrepreneurship is all rainbows and unicorns, they are lying, or they took over a well-run family business). Based on my readings and internet research, I came across a leadership framework created by the Indian Armed Forces called the “Z-Kitbag” (Capt. Raghu Raman of the Indian Armed Forces does a fantastic Ted Talk on this).

Following this simple framework helped me set up my first company. Now, as I settle into this new leadership role in a new industry, I try to implement these lessons here as well.

As we step into the new year, I hope these lessons can help you as they helped me. This is going to be a bit of a read. But trust me, it’s worth the time!

You may be wondering, “why do I need battlefield principles in the corporate world” a valid question. Whether on the battlefield or in a boardroom, leadership is the thin line between success and failure. The armed forces leadership is one where you cannot afford mistakes because, unlike the mistakes we make in the boardroom, they have no second chances. Their mistakes come home in body bags and are not just a line on a graph we show to shareholders.

Military commanders use the Z-Kitbag framework at all levels to develop plans and brief their teams. It has been refined over thousands of years and has stood the test of time. Let’s dive into the meaning of the acronym “Z-Kitbag.”

Z is for Zamini Nishan, which is a scan of the environment. In battle, it is essential to understand the landscape in which you are fighting. Every single soldier needs to be aware of the battlefield’s characteristics and boundaries. Like soldiers, business leaders, and the “troops” they lead, all need to understand the business landscape and the barriers they may face.

K is for Khabar, which means intelligence. In battle, this means completely understanding your enemy, including strengths, weaknesses, and even their culture. Good leaders also understand the capabilities of their own Army. This kind of intelligence comes from various sources, such as competitive analysis or SWOT analysis in a business context. Good business leaders make decisions by turning information into knowledge.

I is for Irada, which is the strategic intent. Every mission, operation, or battle should have a clearly defined objective that should be measurable and met within a specific time frame. My father used to say that information from the top was communicated to every last soldier within 18 minutes in the Army. Military leaders need to determine what information must be passed down to the next level to ensure the directions are clear, complete, and achievable. Any miscommunication can be the difference between life and death.

In the corporate world, we clearly define our purpose and objective in vision and mission statements. Within robust organizations, every single employee can recite the mission statement, and every employee works towards this goal within their defined job parameters. Employees are performing different tasks, depending on their role. Still, all tasks work in coordination to achieve the same, singular objective of the organization. We, as leaders, must also foster a culture of accountability and responsibility. In other terms, employees must be able to assume orders in the absence of orders based on the singular purpose of the organization.

T is for Tariqa, which is the strategy used to achieve the clearly defined objective. These strategies are incredibly detailed to avoid discrepancies or confusion. Plans are also clearly defined and include the who, what, where, when, why, and how to accomplish the mission. In business, we strategize and create detailed action plans that include the same 5’Ws, as stated above. Additionally, we set SMART goals (simple, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based).

B is for Bandobast, which is the resources and structure. In the military, this refers to the planning and execution of missions. Where and when do we infiltrate? When the task is complete, where is the rendezvous point? What constitutes a success or a failure? In business, we plan campaigns and initiatives rather than missions. We ideate, plan, execute and measure the effectiveness of our efforts and resources. We create contingency plans to address unforeseen results.

A is for Administration and logistics. This may refer to how much ammunition is needed, what vehicles are required, or how the soldiers prepare. In business, we analyze the past and forecast the future to determine resource needs and timelines. This can be considered adequate enterprise resource planning and supply chain management.

Lastly, G is for Ghari Milao, which means synchronization. In military operations, all watches must be synchronized with the commander’s clock. Even the slightest time discrepancy can undo years of planning and coordination. The lesson here is aligning all efforts within the organization. It is essential to be clear and concise. Any non-binary communication presents an opportunity for ambiguity and misunderstandings – which is not something you need from your troops on the battlefield.

The Z-Kitbag tool is several centuries old and has stood the test of time. As you plan for 2020, I urge you to consider what lessons you can incorporate into your business or role.