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The role of leading from the front: On Point with Riccardo Bosi

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Australia’s commissioned and non-commissioned officers are held up as exemplars of the attributes, business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovation ecosystems seek. Riccardo Bosi of Lionheart Australasia explains how he leveraged the skills learned in the Army to help business leaders shape their direction.

Australia’s commissioned and non-commissioned officers are held up as exemplars of the attributes, business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovation ecosystems seek. Riccardo Bosi of Lionheart Australasia explains how he leveraged the skills learned in the Army to help business leaders shape their direction.

With an extensive career with Australia's Special Forces community, Riccardo Bosi has leveraged the various roles ranging from service with the Special Air Service Regiment and 1st Commando Regiment to roles with Army, Special Operations and Combined Joint Task Force Headquarters, respectively, to build the basis for developing the core fundamentals for improving corporate leadership.


In this edition of 'On Point', host Phil Tarrant and Bosi discuss how developing corporate leadership can lead to a growth economy and extensive opportunities for those wishing to capitalise on the burgeoning defence sector. He discusses the five pillars of real leadership, how his own business ventures have impacted his teachings and how the corporate world differs to his time within defence.

Phil Tarrant: I think a lot of people and companies are potentially missing out on a lot of opportunities in the defence space. What I've done today, I've asked someone to come into the studio to have a chat about how the culture and philosophy of innovation can be impacted by leadership.

A lot of the challenges these organisations have though is that often, they have the right intent, but they don't have the right leadership.

Riccardo Bosi is here. He's from an organisation called Lionheart. Riccardo also has a background in the army for many years. Ricardo, how are you going? Thanks for joining us.

What do you think about this noise, a lot of leaders in business get swept up in all the noise, the influencing factors, which isn't really supporting them to get the job done, but they concentrate on this other typical challenge, an issue you see from leaders across business.


What's the skills then do you think, to actually always focus on the end state rather than get caught up with all the other stuff that doesn't really matter?

Riccardo Bosi: Thanks Phil. Good to be here.

Yes, it is. And the planning system that we learn in the military is superb, because when I consult to major corporates, I just say one word, and it clarifies. End state. What's your end state? If the action you're taking contributes to that end state, you go ahead. If it doesn't, you quit. Just move onto something else.

Well, the trick is to make sure you spend, as Abraham Lincoln said, spend most of the time sharpening the axe. Getting it right. I was consulting to a medical firm recently, and setting the intention, purpose, method end state was what I spent most of my time doing.

Defining in very clear detail exactly what each director around the table wanted, and then we beat that into shape, and presented them with an intention, purpose, method, end state very clearly. Presented that to the chief executive that then turned into a strategic plan, and that clarifies, and they can see their words up on the wall, and they can see their objectives being achieved.

Phil Tarrant: A lot of the work that you do with an organisation like that, does it come from your military background, you translate a lot of learnings, and skills, and capabilities you had as an officer in the Australian Army into it. Try and turn into a corporate strategy, or sophistication to actually help people leverage their business as a result of that. Is that the mantra?

Can you tell us a bit about your career in the army. Was a couple of decades, or so. What stuff were you working on?

Riccardo Bosi: Absolutely. The fundamental skills were learned in the military, but they don't necessarily apply innately straight into business. I started my first company in ’98, yet to retire for six years. I was running business on weekends, and nights, and at the desk. Saluting the boss during the week, and what I learned was that there are some fundamental differences between the two, and you have to massage one into the other.

Business is far more complex, far more mobile than defence. And you have less reliability in terms of people, and systems. You've got to think quickly, and move fast. But massaging that into one process is what has underpinned my success in the corporate world. Sharp, hard, measurable processes from Defence, but adapted for civilian life, which is fundamentally different. 

I spent 24 years in the Army as a commissioned officer, reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. Most of that time in special ops in the Special Air Service Regiment, the 1st Commando Regiment, two stints in Headquarters, Special Operations in the capability development branch, which was just a buzz. 

I spent some time in future warfare development, and a number of other jobs as you do staff jobs, and Headquarters, 5th/7th Battalion Mechanised, so I got a good spread of technical and staff skills.

Phil Tarrant: Can you tell us a little about the transition out of the army into the corporate world. I know it is an end game, and the end state for most people that go through the services to there is a life after the services. Was it always a plan for you to spend your time in the Army, and then explore opportunities outside of it? And then was it an easy transition out of the army?

Did you have to crystallise those lessons you learned during that period to transition out of the army, and start creating your own businesses, what are the two, or three critical factors to get right to be a success?

Riccardo Bosi: It was for me. I was quite lucky, like most people I was planning to become a general. And then I realised there was a very exciting life outside. Six years before I actually retired, I didn't know when I was going to retire, but I knew I would. I had a choice between going into a large corporate entity, or just learning business from the ground up by starting businesses.

I took the second option, it got some basic training to run a business. Then I just started a number of companies with colleagues, and investors just to learn how to do business. Each one was a sound business in its own right, but it fell over for any number of reasons. And that was part of the learning process. 

It's all about people. In Defence, other people train our people for us, and within a very narrow band of competency, they'll be able to do the job. In the civilian world, you don't have that certainty. I learned very quickly, you can have a second-class business idea, but with a first-class team, and you have a chance to make it big ... It's all about people, and that's why I focus on leadership now. Because most organisations have most of what they need to get the job done, but unless they get the people part right, and that's what leadership's about.

Because military understand command, which is the lawful execution of your authority, and that's part of leadership, it's a subset of leadership. Real leadership comes from within you, and I've got my own definition. It took me years to actually nail it down, but I eventually ended with one that I'm pretty happy with. A real leader is someone who is using nothing but what they are, it's many to achieve good, and each word is very carefully selected. That's real leadership. In the real world, I understand that you need to encourage, coerce, force, manipulate, entice.

Phil Tarrant: Transitioning leadership skills, the application of leadership within the army, into the corporate world, what would be the key leadership trait of someone who is ex-Army, who transitions into corporate that corporate could learn?

Riccardo Bosi: Bibi Netanyahu said it. Patience, absolute patience. You must learn patience. Most military people for the first year or three are having difficulty understanding it's a different world, and it just takes time. What your job is as a leader, because you will have skills, most military people have skills that the civilian world loves, but they can't deliver it the way the civilian world likes. If they learn that they have this ability to share their knowledge, their experience with their colleagues, it'll get them a long way down the track. But patience, that's the big one. 

Phil Tarrant: If you put that the other way around, what would be great leaders in the corporate world that don't have any military bearing, or experience? What could the services, what can the Army and Navy and Air Force learn from those corporate leaders who do better within the context of a command, and control structure within the military?

Riccardo Bosi: They're pinned on results. The corporate world is very clear on the KPIs, and it's not about turning up. Unless you're getting a result, you're out of a job. There are many organisations in the military where you turn up, and you don't actually achieve anything, but you've got a nice resume that says, I was the... And you fill in the blank. But corporate world's not interested in where you served, and what position you've held. They are interested in the results you achieved. And that's what the corporate world has over the military. The only time the military gets really measured is in war. But even then, because there is a political dimension to it, the politicians won't necessarily admit error that had adherence to a set of KPIs, and we get back to this end state, military strategic end state. 

Phil Tarrant: At the moment I don't know who our prime minister is, I blink, and its always very different, but we'll touch on a bit later. I know you've been doing a lot of work, and you do a lot of presentations with, working with corporates. The five pillars of real leadership. What are those five pillars, and can you crystallise each of them in a quick sentence for us.

Riccardo Bosi: Imagine you're building a building. The first one is the foundation. This is one of the pillars, this is the foundation, the slab you put down and everything rests on this. It's trust, without trust, you have nothing.

Any relationship, and leadership is about people. Trust is easy to define. Be honest, just tell the truth. Be competent, know your job, be measured, be candid, and be loyal. The last one's interesting, being loyal to an ideal, don't be loyal to people because people are variable, they're changeable, they'll be loyal to an ideal. That's the foundation. Then the first pillar is your character. Civilisations are built on character. The Roman Empire for the first 500 years was the Republic. 

There was an underlying ethos philosophy about how, and what it was to be a Roman. Corruption set in, became part of the day to day life in Rome. Then the dictatorships took over. And they were on a 500-year slow road to oblivion. The first pillar is character. The second pillar is competence. Know your job, know your people, and you really got to know your job deeply.

Well, you've got to understand people. You don't have to be a psychologist, but you have to understand psychology, because leadership is about people ... An organisation is like an individual. It'll be cranky, it'll be happy, we'll be working hard, or it won't work at all. You got to understand people. The third pillar is invention. You've got to create something new. Innovate, and there are simple ways to do it.

The last pillar is you, and you is understanding who, and what you really are. Most of us can do most things, but the trick is once you find out who you really are on a deep level, then you find out where you belong on the planet. The work you'll do, won't be work ever again. You will apply effort. But it'll be a sheer joy every day to get up, apply and do what you were put here to do.

Phil Tarrant: You have five pillars of leadership. How long has it taken you actually crystallise those into five very simple words that make a lot of sense, and people can interpret them as they will and do? But to take a while to actually flesh it out, and crystallise in that way.

Do you find that you come across, or you consult with people that have all five? Or is it, you're never going to get there, I imagine. It's always something you're working towards. If you stop and think that, OK, I've achieved the holy grail. I've got all five, and I don't need to do anymore. You're probably not a good leader. Know where you struggle on, because I can't imagine, you can't be great at all those five.

Riccardo Bosi: It took 40 years in the business world, and in the military to experience it, so I could draw upon it. To actually get it down on paper, a couple of years.

You have to be. No, that's not true. Of course, you are. You start where you are. And it's like any company that has a series of five different metrics, and you're doing well on four, and if you see you're not doing well on the fifth one, that's where you work on. You get more value for money investing in that one you're not performing on, but you've got to be all five. But here's the thing, the best leaders I've bumped into, and I've worked with, and I've cancelled, and coached. The ones who score best on all of those five are the most humble. I don't mean humble in the sense of I'm not very good. You don't think less of yourself. You just think of yourself less. There's a big difference.

You can be extremely powerful, and still have a tonne of humility to understand that everyone is on their journey. You have that patient I was talking about earlier. When you see someone struggling, and they might be a bit rude, or abrupt, and you recognise yourself in an earlier life in them, and you know how to bring them around, and say, "Look, you don't need to be like that. It's OK. You're good at what you do. Let's just finesse this a bit."

The full podcast with Riccardo Bosi can be found here

The role of leading from the front: On Point with Riccardo Bosi
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