The IDES of Leadership

A few years ago, I was on a most unusual assignment. My strategy team and I had a client in Texas—a large financial services company that was founded and run by ex-military officers, designed to assist military families. A noble enterprise, whose mission was to assist the servicemen and women who risked their lives for their country, and whose modest incomes made it essential that they have proper financial planning.

They were eager to become more competitive with retail players like Merrill Lynch, and to expand their audience base to include other public servant professions such as police officers, firemen, and nurses. So, to develop their new strategic vision, we took their senior management, all of whom were ex-military officers (Green Berets, Marine Corps, Navy Seals), to a retreat centre in the middle of the Texas prairie, to a place called Possum Kingdom. I kid you not. But don’t let the name fool you, it was “luxe”: a golf resort perched atop a huge mesa, overlooking a large man-made lake with an island in the middle, dotted with expensive boats and lined with opulent summer homes. The Hamptons of Tornado Alley.

Our days were gruelling: 7 a.m. call time for a meeting, then breakfast, then sessions, lunch, more sessions, dinner, evening group work on special assignments, bed, then 7 a.m. call time. During one lunch, I sat next to the CEO, and asked him in between bites of seemingly endless ribs, “What do you think are the qualities needed in a leader during combat?” This was a man who had done 17 tours of duty as an Air Force pilot during Vietnam, and had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour. So he didn’t skip a beat: “Well Wahn,” he says, “there’s a simple acronym that helps me remember: IDES. As in Ides of March.” And here’s what it stood for:

I for Instinct. A leader must have good instincts and trust them.

D for Decisiveness. Nothing worse than a leader who can’t make up his mind.

E for Enthusiasm. You must keep your spirits and that of your troops up. And up high.

S for Stamina. You must develop and maintain good health, and a great capacity for work.

Not only did this ring true to my ears, I was also struck by how he had sequenced them in a way that make perfect sense. With good Instinct one can make a Decision. Once the Decision is made then Enthusiasm is key. And as you enter the field with Enthusiasm, then your Stamina will carry you through.

I took this advice to heart, especially given that this man was not only a war hero, but a leader during peace time as well. Whether you’re going into battle or running a business, the IDES hold true.