Leading the Target

When I served in an Army tank battalion, we were taught marksmanship, first at stationary targets, and later, moving ones. In the classroom, we learned that if the target was moving left or right, you had to aim a bit ahead in the direction it was travelling, just to hit it. As we transitioned to ranges with actual moving targets, we had to compensate for vehicles that might be maneuvering at what then seemed like incredible speeds, sometimes as high as 30 mph.

The best marksmen and tank gunners who succeeded were those who fired an appropriate distance ahead of the vehicle. We called it “Leading the Target.”

There was a considerable amount of training involved for the best gunners. And there was even more coaching, as they were taught to carefully determine the identification of the vehicle, and calculate its angle, speed, direction and acceleration or deceleration. The gunners would then apply mental feedback loops to compensate for windage and smoke. Initially, coached by experienced tank gunners, they asked themselves a hundred questions and later developed shortcuts for answering them. Today we call them heuristics. Others call them intuition, but all are based on gathering information and awareness about one’s environment and then making meaning of it.

Targeting and marksmanship are metaphors often associated with leadership and business. “Right on target,” “Straight-shooter,” or “Bulls eye” are not uncommon. But “Leading the Target,” has often drawn blank stares from my colleagues. It shouldn’t. Business is moving at a speed considerably faster than 30 mph, and unlike modern tanks with computers and predictive gun sighting technology; it still takes leaders and teams working together in an organization to effectively stay ahead of the speed of change.

The gunners in tanks who failed to hit the target inevitably struck where the target had been, not where it was. Their next round often failed to hit as well, since they were now playing catch-up, instead of anticipating the rate and speed of the vehicle.

Sounds a bit like the business world, doesn’t it?

Leaders can learn to “lead the target” by using the same techniques we were taught so many years ago;

• Through curiosity and inquiry, take in information about the environment.
• Identify the real target.
• Build as much awareness as you can about what kind of target or issue you are confronting.
• Come up with cogent hypotheses and ideas about its vector and speed.
• Compensate, and then take the shot.
• Then see if you were on the mark, or need to adjust.

You won’t always hit it, but you will have developed skills to improve your approach to the many issues you confront each day. An executive coach can help you as you work to build awareness and then come up with action plans. The skills you learn about yourself in working with a coach are invaluable as you confront your personal and professional challenges. A coach can help guide your learning and development as a leader.

An old sergeant once told me, “Shoot where it’s going to be, not where it is.” The same goes for business and always will. It’s called Leading the Target.

Dave Bushy