Four Key Lessons the Military Teaches about Leadership

Business libraries are filled with books drawing parallels between military and corporate strategy. For centuries, militaries have produced leaders that have had the responsibility of providing security to the nations they serve. In doing so, there have been clear examples of how military forces organize, motivate, and train to accomplish their respective missions. Over time, history has pointed to these links and how business leaders can utilize them in taking their organizations to victory in the arena of business. So how can leaders of 21st-century companies, under increasing pressure to deliver greater results with fewer resources keep their teams engaged, instill confidence in their followers, and drive greater bottom line performance?

Establish Communication Routines

Frequent communication of relevant information is critical to mission accomplishment. Without effective interactions, organizations both large and small would struggle to coordinate resources and bring them most effectively to bear. The effective military leader can establish clear lines of communication, with open dialogue, transparency, and a well-understood framework for decision making. For a military force, small mistakes can lead to devastating consequences. Fortunately, for most business managers the results of a mistake does not risk life or limb. Still, the pressure to deliver results is real and can be better facilitated with a well-conceived communications plan.

Train Like You Fight – Developing Effective Teams

Just like warfare, working in a professional firm is a team activity, and the battlefield of commerce requires tough and cohesive teams that can work together when the stakes are high, and the heat is on. Unfortunately, many companies develop plans that prepare employees for the optimal scenario. The most elite of military forces (Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, Special Forces, Marine Recon) train for environments on air, land or sea in the heat, cold, rain, or snow. In short, they are prepared for nearly any situation. Leaders can begin asking questions that consider all types of environments:

  • What would happen if the economy turned in a different direction?
  • How do politics affect our company?
  • Are our customers changing due to sociological shifts?
  • Could any of our critical resources be constrained in the future?

What is Critical For Your Firm?

By asking tough questions and preparing your team for any situation, leaders can empower their employees to achieve the highest degree of success in any environment.

Establish a Clear Code of Conduct

The US Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) adhere regulations in the form of Field Manuals, service related regulations, and to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). These documents clearly establish the framework that guides the conduct of military service members. It is the social contract that states what actions are and are not acceptable. For business leaders, building (and communicating) a culture that promotes values important to the firm gives managers and employees alike a sense of security. For companies that rely on innovation and aggressive business development, a code of conduct allows a firm to take mitigated risk within well-established boundaries. Most importantly, a code of conduct clearly lays down specific behaviors among team members and between the firm and its clients.

Improving Planning Skills

Planning with speed, purpose and precision is a skill that can be developed by all organizations. Planning is a process that supports every outcome an organization hopes to achieve. Effective planning facilitates more precise tactical implementation. All military leaders are repeatedly trained on the elements of decision making with an emphasis on detailed planning when time and resources permit. Every element in a firm’s value chain can be better aligned with disciplined planning. Routine planning should not consume production time or set a pattern for endless meetings. Quite the opposite – set agendas and time limits to make the most effective use of capital, equipment, and human resources covering as many useful topics (goal-setting, forecasting, defining periodic objectives, formulating strategies, setting priorities, delegating, sequencing and timing, budgeting, and standardizing necessary procedures, etc.) as possible. The military teaches us that strong leaders must be able to make high-quality decisions within a reasonable time frame that are both appropriate for solving the problem and can be implemented by the soldiers.

While countries depend on military forces to protect their national interest, frequently in the most hostile environments, with diligent planning you can train to operate a business in nearly any type of market framework.

To find out more about how to be an effective leader in your organization, sign up for our free webinar, “Developing a Market Strategy.”

Author: Brian Williams and Lauren McMurray, StratIQ Consulting
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