Advertising is not War, no matter how often some of us use one as a metaphor for the other. Neither is marketing. Nor running a business. Because while we may risk our livelihoods, our lifestyles and even our life-savings on a daily basis, we never really risk our lives. At the end of the day, by and large, no one dies. And that makes all the difference – and is, I trust, why many of us are marketers and not soldiers.
But war is a fiery cauldron where many of the traits we admire – leadership, calm, intelligence, teamwork – are tested and forged. And thus there is a school of thought that war has lessons to teach us which we could apply to other areas of our lives.
What’s curious about “Elite!” is how the authors have turned that idea somewhat upside down. It’s not that war teaches us things we can use in the boardroom. It’s that the qualities and skills that make someone an excellent and successful soldier also make one an excellent and successful business person. It’s just that sometimes war provides better examples than peace.
And boy, does Floyd Woodrow have examples.
Woodrow left school when he was 17 so he could join – as one of their youngest recruits – England’s elite Special Air Service Regiment (sort of the UK’s Special Forces), which he served in until 2008. He was awarded the UK’s second highest medal for gallantry, the Distinguished Conduct Medal, for his services in Iraq. While he was deployed on military operations, he studied for his law degree and got a degree in psychology. And now he’s Chairman and CEO of Chrysalis Worldwide – in which he coaches and advises athletes, corporations, governments, educational institutions and others on leadership.
And the authors play that personal history like a violin, never letting you forget the kind of perils Woodrow’s faced. It’s as if on every page they’ve written “You think getting your team to work well is tough? Trying doing it in 130° heat with 60-pound packs and snipers shooting at you. What we’re telling you works under those conditions – so it’s bound to work for you.”
“Elite!” mixes basic information about the brain, personality types, how we learn and how we lead with liberal doses of the kind of high-testosterone/Seal-Team-6 thriller fodder that that not only illustrates the points Woodrow is making, but also spice up the storyline. Sort of like “Myers Brigs, blah blah blah and then I parachuted behind enemy lines under cover of darkness…”
But as interesting as that sounds, it doesn’t quite come off. First because, as noted above, there really isn’t anything new here. The authors quote liberally, and give credit to, a number of sources for the points he’s making – from Jim Collins to Peter Drucker to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. But the lessons are often less compelling than the examples – because we’ve heard them many times before.
Second, while “Elite!” begins with co-author Simon Acland describing Floyd Woodrow to the reader – thus creating an expectation that he’ll be our guide through this story – he isn’t. Or at least, not all the time. Often it’s Woodrow’s voice telling this story and Acland is only around as a device for him to occasionally explain to. Or sometimes Acland is more than that. It’s terribly inconsistent and as a result the narrative lurches, is distracting, and often feels patched together from different sources.
And the third problem has to do with Woodrow’s heroic exploits. For obvious reasons of confidentiality, the stories he tells must be clothed in secrecy – but the secrecy is so elaborate that they lose all flavor and fire. Even his long story of Delta 8 and Delta 9 which is meant to illustrate the right – and wrong – way to work together, and which purports to involve fictional-though-based-on-events-from-his-life scenarios, never really comes to life. Indeed, by the book’s end it feels like a version of the old Highlight’s cartoon “Goofus and Gallant” – but with live ammo and angry natives.
Woodrow & Acland do make some salient points for marketers – their insistence about the importance of clearly knowing who you’re talking to, for example, or the nature of the relationship between negotiation and communication – are insightful and revealing. But that’s because they are drawn from Woodrow’s personal experience and one feels privy to new, innovative, and valuable information that can’t be gotten elsewhere.
Had there been more of this, the book might have lived up to its title and its’ authors’ other impressive accomplishments
Elite!: The Secret to Exceptional Leadership and Performance by Floyd Woodrow and Simon Acland was published by Elliott & Thompson on 05/21/13 – order it from Amazon here or from Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).