It’s On! ASAP Global Alliance Summit Kicks Off with Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield

Posted By: Jon Lavietes Global Alliance Summit, Member Resources,

“Am I on?” asked Michael Leonetti, CSAP, president and CEO of ASAP, as he checked his microphone prior to delivering his opening remarks for the 2023 ASAP Global Alliance Summit. Indeed, ASAP’s annual education and networking showcase kicked off on Monday as hundreds of alliance professionals gathered in Tampa, Fla. to learn from some of the profession’s most knowledgeable and respected veteran practitioners.

Although this year’s Summit is filled with sessions packed with the latest tools, practices, and thinking designed to solve the foremost challenges facing alliance managers in all industries today, it never hurts to get an outsider’s perspective on some of the basic tenets of alliance management.

“There’s Always learning, always the ability to sharpen the sword,” noted Leonetti.

Or perhaps recalibrate your rifle or tune up the tank. The Summit’s first keynote address, “Leading from the Middle: Influencing People and Managing Organizations,” brought a military perspective on leadership as Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Farina, PhD, MBA, assistant professor and management program director for the U.S. Army’s Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, delivered some lessons forged in a career in combat and the classroom that translate on the battlefront, in the lab, and in the office.

Not knowing what to expect—Farina noted that in the military, “ASAP” stands for “alcohol and subatance abuse program”—he quipped that at the very least “this would be a good group to party with.”

Up, Down, and All Around: “Perform as if You Are On Stage”

Like many, Farina grew up thinking that leadership was about imposing your authority on those that work for you, and when he entered West Point, he said half-jokingly that he looked forward to one day being in position to “lead and yell” like his father did to the employees of his steel- and iron-welding shop when Farina was growing up.

However, Farina has learned over time that influence plays a much bigger role in leadership today—in any context—than he ever would have imagined as a young cadet. In summarizing his career, he illustrated some key tenets of a great leader. First, he told a story from his first stint as a platoon leader in which he didn’t inform his company commander that he was skipping a planned formation rehearsal to head to a wind tunnel his fellow officer wanted to check out. This led to his “first dressing down” from a superior officer outside of the academy. A few months later in his first deployment in the Middle East, Farina cited “distance and direction” instead of the usual protocol of leading with direction and following with distance in reporting indirect fire, which tipped the commander in charge that someone he hadn’t authorized (i.e., Farina) was in this important position.

The lesson: you need to communicate “up as well as down.” Farina would always prioritize keeping his superiors informed and guiding his ground troops equally from that point on. Because after all, there is usually someone else with command and authority. Also, you can never deliver a B performance, no matter where you are, because people are dependent on you—and they are always watching your every move.

“You have to perform as if you are on a stage. When you’re a leader, there are spotlights that are always on you, and you have to be a person of character throughout. It’s not just while you are in the office, it’s while you’re home, with significant others, or out enjoying dinner somewhere else. You have to be that leader 24/7,” he said.

Show Them You Care

Later in his first stint in the Iraq/Afghan wars, a highly respected sergeant was killed in combat. Farina was unsure of how to respond; did the troops expect him to be emotional and talk about it, or was he expected to compartmentalize the event and plow forward? Months later, former NFL football player Pat Tillman was killed, and Farina responded by living by the “ranger’s creed” to push through it and “get the mission done.” He was under the impression that he wasn’t supposed to “let the men see you crying” because “leaders don’t show emotion.” 

In these instances, he learned through his troops’ feedback that he didn’t address the group’s collective grief sufficiently.

“They need to see that you care,” Farina noted. “They must understand that you genuinely care about them.”

Born to Be Wild

Farina’s next leadership lesson—“be wild”—took on a different meaning than one might instinctively assume. He urged attendees to always show an excitement and passion for what they do when they do it. If you are worn down by hundreds of emails and have that “distraught” look, you will have a hard time motivating others to carry out their duties to the best of their ability.

Farina noted that even when he teaches accounting in his current role as a West Point professor, he tries to instill an enthusiasm for the subject within his students, not just teach the basics of number-crunching. Similarly, his wife has cautioned him about talking about bikes when they have company over because his fervor for motorless two-wheelers often results in people buying new sets of wheels they don’t necessarily need. Similarly, when selling a partnership, it’s important to “understand where [partner counterparts] are and [that] you’re showing passion about that.” 

Directing Empathy When You Lack Authority

Of course, empathy and putting yourself in others’ shoes is a hallmark of alliance management, and it’s a core principle of military leadership, too. Farina noted that there is often a disconnect between military operations personnel and ambassadors on many levels when the two parties are forced to engage. First, Farina mentioned that what makes sense from a tactical standpoint from a commander’s perspective often isn’t aligned with ambassadors’ interests. Moreover, the mere presence of military is usually an inherent indictment of the ambassador’s performance—“’You have just failed. Let me take it from here,’” said Farina, summarizing the tenor at the outset of this relationship. 

And yet, it’s critical to have the ambassador’s buy-in, so that penchant for empathy must be displayed if one is to get that stakeholder on board.

“You have to understand what the other person’s perspective is. That helped me build stronger teams where I did not have any authority to direct them to do what I want,” said Farina.

The ASAP Global Alliance Summit continues through Tuesday. Check back at this blog throughout the week for summaries of other presentations.

NOTE: The views expressed are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily represent the policies or views of the Department of Defense, United States Army, or the United States Military Academy.