What the Military can teach us about leadership in Business: Part 1

I follow a rather wide spectrum of people on the internet, from entrepreneurs to artists, from CEO to front line workers, from cushy arm chair consultants to hardened military professionals. All of these people have something to contribute to my personal take on how the world works, but when it comes to leadership I lean and am inspired heavily by the evolving leadership paradigm in the armed forces. Over the next 4 posts we’ll be reviewing 15 rules of leadership originally presented for use by leaders in the military by our friend Nick over at RangerUp.com (Here) but translated here for application in the corporate world by us.

Miss a previous day? Check here:

Part 4 - Permalink

Part 3 - Permalink

Part 2 - Permalink

Part 1 - Permalink

Rule 1: Don’t be a hypocrite

You know the one; odds are you’ve probably worked for him before, he shows up at 9 or 930 am every morning a full hour or more after the rest of the workforce. He goes home at 5 pm on the dot, but then when he gets you and the team in a room he tears a strip off you for “Not getting enough traction” and “Not leading by example” sound familiar?  Remember how much you hated that guy? You probably walked away from every meeting thinking about how little you cared about his opinion. So don’t act that way.

You can be hard and demanding, you can ask your team to work 16hr days, and forego lunches and breaks, you can ask the moon of people and they will deliver, but if you want to be respected as a leader in the business world you cannot ask for more than you put in. It’ll get done, people want to keep their jobs, but they’ll hate you for it.

Rule 2: Your people are what’s important not your promotion

There are two kinds of leaders in the corporate world, the ones who will sacrifice anything to get ahead and the kind that will do what’s right regardless of if it gets them ahead or not. 95% of the leaders I’ve ever met fall into the first category, and let me tell you that they are the reason why so many people hate, with an undying passion ‘Corporate America’. There are going to be times in your career when you’re sitting at your desk, the door is closed, and you’ll be looking at the latest quarterly results and they will be bad and you will find your gut reaction is to find someone to blame.  That middle manager that didn’t manage his team, that front line worker that is never in on time, that administrator that constantly screwed up reports. There will always be someone you can blame.

Don’t do it. Good leaders own problems.

As soon as you blame someone else for something you’re responsible for your usefulness as a business leader has been eradicated. Save all your future subordinates the paranoia and angst that having someone like that in charge causes and just quit. We’ll consider it a civil service.

Your job as a leader is to empower your people and take care of them as a team, not to use them as a tool for climbing another inch up the corporate ladder, and the secret? If you take the bumps for when things go wrong, the trust you build will be worth more than the trouble you got in when things went sideways.  Most important of all is that your team will see you standing in the gap and taking responsibility for the results of your leadership.  That commodity cannot be paid for but instead it can only be earned.  If history has shown us anything it’s that a team motivated and lead by an outstanding leader can accomplish anything.

Rule 3: Don’t lead people doing a job you can’t do

Before I worked with the company I do I found myself once sitting at a table at a bar with a bunch of other managers, one of them quipped:

“The client actually wanted me to get on the phones like an agent, I was like ‘I have reports to do, and problems to solve, I’m not going to do that!’. Can you believe they expected that!?”

I immediately wrote that guy off in my mind, there is no way he could provide the leadership needed if he had never spent so much as a day doing the job that he was supposed to be managing. This is a chronic problem in business by the way, people come out of ‘business school’ with a ‘business degree’ and expect to walk into an organization and take a leadership role immediately. No good leaders have ever been made this way. The best leaders, the ones that inspire people to work hard, get results, and innovate on a regular basis, are the ones that have proven that not only can they do the job of all those who work for them, but that they can do it exceedingly well.

Be good at the job your people do and if you can’t then surround yourself with the best.  Leadership in the military is broken down into three groups for a reason.  The officers may come up with the plan but they don’t run the play on the ground.  If you want to see who runs the actual play look to the NCOs but if you want to know who did the actual heavy lifting you look at the enlisted.  Understand where your gaps are and appreciate each part of the team.

Rule 4: It’s not your Team

This becomes exceedingly true the longer you’re in business. Remember that first team you ever led? You used to work on the front lines and then you got promoted to “Team Leader” and now all these guys you used to work with answered to you. They respected you because you had proven yourself and maybe they respected your boss too because he’d been there since the beginning. Remember how you felt when your boss was replaced by a guy hired externally? You were thinking “Who is this guy, and how is he possibly going to tell me how to do my job better?” you were annoyed right? I know I was.

Whenever you take over a team remember, especially at a senior level, remember that you’re not the veteran guy here. That there are people already in place that are fixtures in your organization and really, it’s THEIR team, not yours. You just run it. If you find yourself in this position humility over strength is the key to succeed, find those people, reach out to them, involve them in decisions and you’ll find people respect you much more.  Don’t let the all mighty ego ruin your impression time with the new team.  Embrace being the new guy and laugh at yourself while you learn the lay of the land.  Take a mental survey of who falls where in the realms of experience and pecking order and see how to use your team the best.

Check in Thursday for rules 5-8!

Written by Logan and Lino