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September 09, 2004 - Thursday, 11:21 p.m.

Flags of Our Fathers

When I first looked over the books for my Transforming Technology Organizations and Employees class, I tried to imagine what a book about the heroes of Iwo Jima could have to do with Technology Organizations. Nothing came to mind. However, we were told to read the entire book and our assignment was to explain what we thought the professor wanted us to perceive from this book. Realizing that the book would take a while to read, I decided to make myself comfortable on Sunday afternoon and start on the reading. Within the first few pages I was immersed. I read the entire book that day. As I read I was captivated by the story and with only a passing question of 'why' in the back of my mind, I focused on the story, not the ideas. This book was about the shaping of ordinary boys into an extraordinary team. What motivated these boys was not the image of glory or personal success, but the image of protecting their fellow soldiers and securing the future for their loved ones at home. The book detailed, in particular, how these boys were reshaped into a team. There are a number of themes that run through this book that make it very appropriate reading for this class. This book draws a good picture of teamwork, motivation and leadership.

Teamwork As the story unfolds the power of the team is very obvious. I found it very interesting to look at the team building behind the Japanese Imperial Army and the U.S. Marines. On the one hand the Japanese, by decree, was able to amass a huge army. By modifying the Bushido, they placed honor and country ultimate in the mind of the military man. The Japanese got their armies to fight, by dictating honor and country as the ultimate aspirations of the individuals fighting. They created this idea by twisting the bushido, or Code of the Samurai. The motivation of the soldiers fighting was to honor their country and family by their individual actions. Each individual fights and what makes them honorable is what they are willing to give up.

The Marines, on the other hand, were broken down as individuals and rebuilt as a part of a group. They were not taught to aspire to individual success, but to the success as a group. They did not fight to become heroes. They fought to protect and take care of the comrades they were fighting with and in the background was the desire to protect their loved ones at home. The only way to succeed was to work as a well-oiled machine.

You can dictate participation successfully only in the short term, in the long run all participation is voluntary. This book beautifully showcased this idea. The individual Japanese fought this war on demand. Though most of the American boys were drafted, the boys that chose the Marines did so voluntarily. Once in the army, the Japanese were trained along the lines of personal success. What you did or did not do as an individual would shape whether you were honorable or not. You could only advance, never retreat. To live through a battle with honor you had to win, if you lost then you had better be dead or your honor was gone. The idea 'live to fight another day' was not acceptable. On the personal level, they were fighting because they were told to as well as to honor the emperor. On the other hand, for the most part, the American boy joined the service voluntarily.

Motivation - What motivates us? To maintain motivation it has to touch us on a very personal level. The Marines created the "espirit de corps," which is defined in Webster's as - "the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion and strong regard for the honor of the group." The term "espirit de corps" is widely used in leadership models. This book takes it beyond an idea, to a graphic display of how and why it works. We are motivated by love, pride, and the desire to do the best that we can. Yet the key to maintaining motivation is the ability of the individual to make decisions within the framework of the group.

Leadership I could see that both the Marines and the Japanese had been able to successfully accomplish much during the war. Both teams were successful, but I tried to pinpoint what made them different. Why did the Marines succeed where the Japanese failed? I think it was leadership. The Marines training included a lot of leadership training. They were taught to lead. The Japanese were taught to follow. I think this was a key point in the book, and probably the best lesson that can be drawn to developing organizations. In teaching the Marines to lead they created pockets of men that could lead themselves. This gave them power to accomplish things. I feel that because the Marines leadership was literally on the front line, each individual perceived himself as an important part of the group. And when the leader of the group fell in battle, another Marine always stepped up to the leadership role. Every member was capable of leading the group. This is a powerful lesson. It points out the power of creating teams where each individual has the ability to lead. It made their progress unstoppable.

What does transforming technology organizations and employees have in common with the heroes of Iwo Jima? To me the thread that runs through the book is a thread that shows the power of the team and the success of motivations that are team based, rather then individually based. Ultimately, how you structure the leadership within the group, allows the team to succeed repeatedly. Teams created on a leadership model, will respect the role of leadership and its leader. They will continually produce new leaders to step up into leadership roles as the team grows.

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