When I left the military after my conscription and entered the business realm back in 1987, I was acutely aware that I was entering a totally different environment. I expected to learn countless lessons about business theory and responding to consumer needs. I never imagined how much I would rely on my military experience though. In fact, in my years of advising medium businesses on business optimization, I have been struck time and again by how many of the military’s teachings apply, and how many valuable lessons business should be taking from the military. Here are some of the most important.
Your main purpose is to protect and defend. As we try to digest the lessons of the last few years of corporate mishap, I can’t help but reflect and rely on the military mission of providing security. It’s not uncommon for people to conjure up images of battle scenes, death and destruction when thinking of the military. But the critical reason for the military’s existence is to protect and serve. My belief is that businesses should follow a similar purpose, protecting their brands, their consumers, their employees and their shareholders. Keeping these core values in mind, when things are disrupted, it is the responsibility of corporations to rebuild in a sustainable and value-driven way. If these principles are respected and core business values aligned, revenue and success will follow.
You must go in with a vision of success. In the military, each and every mission aims to achieve a clearly defined vision of success. The mission is not abandoned until its objective is met. At times this can be a long and painful process, as we have witnessed in Afghanistan, but if the ultimate outcome is the establishment of peace in a formerly hostile region, the mission cannot be abandoned along the way. When a business establishes a clear vision of success, it can keep its eyes on the prize and focus all its efforts on achieving that vision.
Go for action, not theory. When planning a battle, military officers provide specific detailed missions to their subordinates to achieve their vision. This well- tested and proven approach brings clarity and alignment. Business executives should take note and learn to execute their strategies the same way.
Trust your managers. Great generals –and great business leaders– think about future battles. A visionary CEO learns to leave the current battles to his deputies to win. Business leaders, whether running multinational giants or family businesses, need to trust and delegate to their teams. If you don’t trust your managers, then you fail as a leader.
Stay focused on the main effort. In the military, the main effort is when you identify your opponents’ weaknesses and attack them at their most vulnerable point. In so doing, you cut off their oxygen and ultimately bring them to their knees. All too often I see businesses trying to hit their competitors with everything, attacking from too many angles. The K.I.S.S. principle applies. Single mindedness and focus win the day.
Rest Your Commandos. Before a major assault, generals rest their troops, train them for the mission ahead and plan how they will achieve victory. The same applies in business. After all the long hours, weekend working and penny-pinching of the crisis we have endured, you need refreshed, motivated and energetic executives, not tired and frightened ones. Pull some of your best people out of the ongoing battle and put them on a “recovery team.” Cultivate this team by recruiting the best talent now, while it’s still available.
Measure Your Success, Not Your Targets Hit. If military troops take the base camp after it is deserted, they miss the point that the enemy has already moved on. Targets exist to measure success. Business leaders who set aside time to establish targets and evaluate achievement against those targets are ultimately better equipped to measure success.
In business as in the military, great leaders succeed by relying on values, protecting constituents, developing a clear vision, identifying competitors’ weaknesses, measuring actions and establishing tried and true leadership tactics. Our battle-tested methodologies result in tangible and lasting results that contribute to measurable growth. Growth is a choice, contact us now!
Thanks to Damian McKinney (McKinney Rogers) for finding the right words!