What All Leaders Can Learn From The Military

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By Jas Singh

One of our clients is a well known Wall Street broker. They’re very successful – nearly 2000 people globally and revenues approaching $1 billion. They have a great business – supported by a high performing and loyal work force.

Yet there is something very interesting about this organisation. Something almost unusual. A much larger than usual percentage of their workforce is ex-military. Whereas most of their competitors hire the typical MBA’s and the annual Harvard/Stanford/Wharton greaduates, they have a strong track record of hiring those who have worked in the army. From junior up to veteran level.

Last month after completing a round of sales hires, I asked their MD whether he was ex-military himself. “No Jas” he replied. “But I learned early on my career how having a military background could be so valuable. They just get things done”.

It got me thinking. In many respects both the military and business do have many similarities. Both involve competitive threat. Both rely on the right strategy. And most importantly both rely on having high quality people.

Whether you work in the business, public or non-profit sector there are lessons that are useful to all.

Here are a few things all leaders can learn from the military.

To outperform you must raise your standards

Ever wondered why most armies are so keen on discipline? Why the posture, marching and language has to be so precise? Why soldiers are always pushed to the extreme – constantly trying to build their capability?

It’s not just for show. No, it’s all to do with raising personal standards.

The military realises that performance is directly related to personal standards. The higher your standards, the better you will perform when it counts. That’s why everything – behaviour, diet, even beliefs are monitored so carefully.

The same is true in all aspects of life – including business. Just like an unfit soldier can’t be expected to perform optimally when in the field, you can’t expect a lazy executive to effectively lead others in a company.

The higher your standards – in everything you do – the higher your performance.

Attitude is more important than skill

Every military organisation around the world has some form of requirements when it comes to physical things. Height, fitness, in some cases even eyesight.

Yet these just get you an interview. What is most important in making the cut are the mental requirements. The right attitude.

Take loyalty for example. Military leaders are keen to select only those who they can trust – often with mission critical information and responsibility. Once selected, the military sector consistently invests in creating a tighter and tighter group. In many cases captured soldiers are tortured and even killed but still remain loyal to their country, cause or mission.

In direct contrast to the world of business. Moving to the competitor is the norm – in some cases even a tactic to try and get career progression. As my client who has hired regularly from the military mentioned above once said to me “I’ve never had to worry about one of my team jumping ship”.

Just imagine what a business built on people like that could achieve.

Military organisations actively train and invest in building the right attitude – bravery, loyalty, critical thinking, team work, persistence and determination.

All leaders, in any calling, can benefit from these attitudes.

Sometimes even the biggest decisions need to be made quickly

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, in ten years of working with over 30,000 different leaders across 50 different countries there has been one trait that stands out for the truly top achievers.

Decisiveness.

In the business world, it often takes ages to get things done. Management is often afraid to get it wrong. The reasons are always the same – the stakes are high, their is a lot at risk, it’s hard to get people to agree. We’ve all been there – re-structuring, freezes, weeks before things get done.

The stakes may be high, but in business they are never life or death. They never involve putting lives on the line. And getting three managers to agree on a new hire should not be as difficult as co-coordinating a 500 man rescue mission overnight in a foreign country.

The military is an outstanding example of how even the biggest decisions in life – even history – need to often be made quickly. There is always another option. There will always be another opinion. But true leadership requires prompt and strong decision.

Decisiveness that is based on protecting and serving others.

Conclusion

This post is by no means endorsing any type of military action – in an ideal world, there would be no need for military.

However unquestionably we all owe gratitude to the various armies around the world who protect us by putting their own lives in danger.

Hiring managers can all learn valuable lessons from the military. And those who have a military background might be able to offer you more than you think.

Everyone has a degree. Few have risked their lives for others.

Next time you’re hiring, will you give the veteran a chance?

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