Enlightened Conflict

somewhere within 100 days

May 28th, 2013

So. napoleon marshal napoleon

Today marks some point within what was known as Napoleon’s Hundred Days campaign.

I thought I would use the opportunity to talk a little history … as well as point out how much shit can be done in 100 days and some thoughts on the challenges a great leader has <and leadership in general>.


And probably a thought for anyone wanting to come back out of retirement.



The history reminder.

After kicking the crap out of almost every country and general for over a decade or so Napoleon abdicates his throne and on May 4, 1814 Napoleon is exiled to the exotically barren island of Elba.


After kicking around on this miserable little island for a while Napoleon realizes that retirement ain’t as cracked up as people made it out to be and in February 1815 he says “the heck with retirement … I miss the whole leadership thing <that I was pretty darn good at>” and high tails it off the island.


March 1, 1815: Escapes Elba, Napoleon returns in South France

March 7, 1815: Napoleon rallies the French army

March 20, 1815: King of France, Louis XVIII flees, Napoleon takes control, begins “Hundred Days” campaign.

–          What happened in the 100 days <the cliff notes version>:

napoleon Jourdan and prisonersNapoleon did what he always did when he was in trouble and what he was <frankly> great at … he went on the offensive. With his newly raised army of around 75000 troops, he attacked Belgium, where the British and Prussian armies were camped. His hope was that he could separately destroy these armies before the Russians and Austrians arrived. The British army was commanded by the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army was commanded by Marshal Gebhard Blucher.

The French army engaged the Prussians first at Ligny, on June 16, 1815. The battle was either a slight win for Napoleon or just relatively indecisive <although imminently winnable by Napoleon should a domino or two fallen his way>… and both sides regrouped.

Napoleon decided next to attack the English, then at Waterloo, a village near Brussels.

On June 18 1815, the British and the Prussians defeated Napoleon.

The victory signaled the end of a more-than-ten- year period filled with war <and a boatload of Napoeon victories>.

At Waterloo, Napoleon had 72,000 troops, Wellington commanded 68,000 troops, and Blucher 45,000 <this becomes relevant later when I point out that “they” had more resources than “he”>.

There were a boatload of good and iffy decisions made by both sides but maybe the biggest was because the ground was muddy on the day of the battle Napoleon made the critical decision of waiting for the ground to dry before attacking Wellington’s forces in the afternoon. This delay allowed Blucher’s forces to reach Waterloo in time to make a difference in the outcome of the battle. While the French made assault after assault on the British, they were slow to make progress, and Blucher’s Prussians advanced against the French army’s eastern flank.

Marshal Ney, one of Napoleon’s best commanders <called ‘the bravest of the brave’>, orchestrated a combined attack of soldiers and artillery, and came very close to breaking Wellington’s line. However, Napoleon could not reinforce Ney’s attack, since he was forced to divert a large number of troops from fighting the British, including his crack Imperial Guard, in order to face the Prussians.


June 18, 1815: ·Defeated in the Battle of Waterloo by the British and Prussians, led by Wellington and Blucher respectively.



Let me try and make several points.


–          100 days.

A shitload can happen in 100 days if you know what you are doing, are a good leader and have a great support <management> team.

In fact you can gather almost 100,000 personnel and the materials needed to sustain them and move them hundreds of miles and get them to perform at the highest level if you really have your shit together.

My first point.

100 days is a lifetime if you use it well.

Businesses can dither around and make excuses but if you cannot get something done in 100 days you should probably be looking for some other business to conduct.

If someone <Napoleon> can swing almost 100,000 men into action and in a span of three or four days of battle at the end of 100 days almost win a victory when outnumbered and outresourced it seems pretty logical that we in business can certainly make a widget in 100 days.

My second point.

100 days doesn’t have a huge margin for error when doing something big and important.

Everything has to happen fairly efficiently and everyone has to be aligned.

It helps when you have a tried & true team in place. The right people at the right place at the right time. Not just the workers but the management too.

In today’s business this is the trickiest.

100 days is a lifetime if you have the right team.

100 days and you can still have victory <not just show up or ‘get it done’> if you have the right team.

100 days never seems like enough if you lose … ponder that … because I see too many times when it doesn’t end well that a business will sit around and say “if we only had more time!” … 100 days was not enough.


It wasn’t the time. It was the team.


–          The importance of the management team:


It seems rarely mentioned but Napoleon not only glimpsed victory at Waterloo … it was his to be had.

I will let all the military experts tear apart the minutiae in the decisions made that day.

From a business perspective the key to the loss <to me> was simple. Napoleon didn’t have his tried & true chief of staff, Marshal Berthier, on this campaign.

Napoleon sorely missed the legendary Marshal Berthier as chief of staff, and Marshal Soult <his replacement> was a good, but not as good, substitute.


And there was a domino effect on the entire management team as people shifted to assume slightly new roles.

napoleon marshalsNapoleon was the master at making on field decisions and yet permitting independent decisionmaking … empowering his best to do their best. And let’s be clear … Napoleon possibly built the greatest team outside of the 1927 New York Yankees <murderers Row>.

By Waterloo several stood on the sidelines, were dead or were managing from a different role than they were accustomed to. But. Napoleon’s management team … his marshals and generals below the marshals were the best of the best.


It is possible Napoleon should have shifted his management style to accommodate the shift in the personnel … but that is speculative thinking <because if he shifted his style who knows how that would have affected everything else>.

100 days would have been nothing if the team was in place.




So I am suggesting one person … and not even ‘the leader’ can make that big a difference?

You bet.


In business this chief of staff person is:

<a> reviled by the young employees as old, conservative and an order taker for the leader,

<b> loved & hated by middle management as they love the fact this person deciphers the vague but inspirational thinking of the leader and gives them the specifics on what to do but hates that this person is not the most creative thinker in the room and is always bitching about why you cannot have the resources you claim you need to do the job you are being given, and

<c> appreciated by the leader because this person can decipher what you are really thinking, get people to do it and while maddeningly conservative <versus the leader> they have a tendency to stop the leader from doing something too incredibly stupid <or risky>.


This person is key to the success of a great leader and an organization.

Napoleon saw things on a battlefield that no one else could ever see.

He could see things before they happened.

That kind of person <as a general or in business> needs someone to coordinate and corral the incredibly talented independent thinkers & managers who will actually implement the vision.

And it takes a while to learn how to decipher a truly visionary leader.

Soult was a good general … probably a novice decipherer.

In addition … by shifting Soult into chief of staff all the other marshals began assuming different roles & responsibilities.

You get it.

You need someone to decipher as well as you need someone to implement and in a 100 days it helps if the people who know what to do are in familiar roles.


–          How a leader is judged:

If you lose you are a loser … and are inevitably second guessed.


Napoleon was arguably the greatest general in history <if you want to be nitpicky you could say the greatest offensive general in history>.

I am probably wrong but I struggle to think of one battle in his history that Napoleon had more resources <men & artillery> than his enemy and yet he constantly drove on the offensive … and won.

No leader has ever done more with less than Napoleon.

At Waterloo he had just won a phenomenal battle at Ligny two days before, after one of the greatest blitzkriegs ever mounted. During his lightning advance, he had managed to separate two major armies who knew he was coming, and inflict simultaneous defeats on both of them.

At Waterloo two of the greatest commanders in all of history faced each other.

Wellington, master of defense, was in an entrenched position that he had chosen, and counted on the arrival of Blucher. Napoleon considered the Prussians under control by Grouchy, and had von Bulow not arrived in Napoleon’s flank and rear, the French would undoubtedly have won, and we’d be reading about Napoleon’s finest victory, Ney’s brilliant attacks etc.


But he lost.

Winning and losing is often defined by the slimmest of margins.

Sometimes even by chance.

But most likely it is defined somewhere within the organization and how the organization, and its people, take action.

That is somewhere within the dependence upon solid visionary direction and independence to react to the situation.

101 days wouldn’t have given Napoleon a victory.

It wasn’t time <or the lack of it>.

It was more likely the management team <or possibly his lack of effectiveness in communicating what he wanted to a new management team>.100 days challange


Napoleon is typically judged by his two historical losses … Russia and Waterloo.


Can’t a great general <leader> get a break?

Answer: Nope.

Leaders typically get defined by how they end and not all the good <or not so good> done inbetween.


100 days is a good reminder of what a great leader can do in 100 days … as well as how slim a margin moving quickly gives you between victory and loss.

a penney for my thoughts

April 10th, 2013


So.jcpenney 1

A quick thought on JC Penney and the firing of their CEO. The bleeding was too much and now the CEO, a guy named Johnson, is gone.

Without investing a lot of energy researching the details nor insuring I have all the facts right … here is a quick summary of the situation and my own penny and a ½ thought.


A year and ½ ago. JC Penney is showing profits but becoming increasingly irrelevant in the category and shrinking as frightening levels.

They hire a new CEO <from outside the industry>. He decided to make “the big change.”

–          On joining the firm, he said, “In the U.S., the department store has a chance to regain its status as the leader in style, the leader in excitement. It will be a period of true innovation for this company.”

They institute the ‘big change.’

–          Abruptly scrapping dubious pricing policies of marking up prices and then offering discounts, with heavy promotions, and coupons as well as incorporated  new more fashionable items at reasonable prices all the time.

Sales plummeted.

–          The approach didn’t fare well with Penney’s customer base of bargain hunters. They rebelled, traffic declined.

Penney slowly returned to the prior era of pricing, with lots of promotions, lots of price-focused ads, and marked-up prices that would be later marked down.

JC Penney reports a $20+million loss.

CEO fired.

<note: all his happens in 17 months>



I buy the fact the immediate priority for JCPenney is survival. Stop, or slow, the bleeding.

And I can guarantee a boatload of pundits will rush to the forefront suggesting the CEO didn’t understand the “woman buyer” or “how women like to shop.” <in other words … they will pull out Paco Underhill – the master of shopping psychology – and start saying ‘it’s the thrill of the hunt, not the buying. “>


He knew exactly what he was doing.

And you know what?

He may have been right and judging after 17 months is ludicrous.

Particularly after a knee jerk “whoa! Let’s go back to lots of promotions to bring people back” action.

The CEO was well aware of the mismatch between the vision, strategy and the existing management and culture.

jcpenney clearance2In addition they had to make changes to the product line, marketing and sales and, most importantly, the customer’s perceptions & attitudes <which affect their behavior>.

But he was also aware that radical changes needed to be made <assuming everyone wanted to have a radical result>.

Penney’s aggressive discount practices had not only cut into pricing strategy <it had actually become their pricing strategy> but the company <and brand> had diminished in consumers’ heads.

Macy’s & Kohls were stealing Penney’s business.

The guy came in and decided to clearly re-position the company, and brand, in the marketplace.

Was it a misalignment with the portions of current customer base? You bet.

But wasn’t that the point?

And the new strategy was about authentic & honesty.

Geez. That’s a shitty strategy, huh?

Even better?

I bet good ole Jacque Penney himself <assuming there was one> was standing up in heaven applauding that someone was actually implementing the original vision.

The vision was incredibly sound.

I was not in the board room but I envision no one forecasted this huge a loss … but, you know what? That is where conviction gets tested.

Shit. If Margaret Thatcher was a CEO she would have been fired after 17 months if this was the way of judging.

I am not suggesting the decision to move forward would have been right, nor easy, but judging in 17 months is ludicrous.


My point?

A boatload of people are going to rush to judge this event.

In fact what inspired me to write about this was one of the talking heads on CNN who unequivocally stated “this is going to be a poster case study in MBA schools for what not to do.”


That is not only silly but crazy.

The CEO had a clear vision to delight Penney customers. Nothing wrong about that.

But delighting customers is tricky.

And it gets even trickier when:

–          The organization is not aligned

–          And the organization <and outside financial world> panics.


We will never be able to judge this CEO nor the event.

Someone at JC Penney will bastardize the vision. People will be quick to point out the failure … but WE WILL NEVER KNOW if it was a failure or not.

How can we?

17 months for a massive organization like JC Penney? It would be crazy to think you could make the tanker sized business shift almost 180degrees in 17 months.



I love the vision he had.

I love the fact he actually was going back to the heritage of JC Penney. What it originally stood for.

I love the fact he recognized that brand is not a brand if it is simply promotion <or what some people may call ‘bargain’>.

Would I have implemented it differently than he did? Maybe. I don’t know. It is the infamous debate of gradual change versus quick change.

All I know is that change is painful.

Oh. I also know that dramatic results are dependent upon dramatic measures.

In the end … who knows what the ‘new JC Penney’ could have achieved after they had survived the change bloodbath.


Someone is gonna send me a note about “you have to survive.’ Well. Let me remind everyone of my ‘how far will you go’ post: http://brucemctague.com/how-far-would-you-go-to-solve-a-problem.impatient patience


Sometimes organizations need to make dramatic changes to turn themselves around. The longer you permit your organization to go down the slippery slope of irrelevance the more dramatic the change has to be. And sometimes you find a leader with a good vision and the balls to implement the dramatic change.

Unfortunately … in today’s business world … no one seems to have the balls to do it.

What I will tell you is that JC Penney will now go the way of Woolworths & Wanamakers.  Or maybe the Dollar Store will buy them.


Enlightened Conflict