Three Things the Military Can Teach the Business World
Having spent nine years as a Platoon Sergeant in the Marines, I learned about leadership on a daily basis and saw its direct impact on my professional growth and the growth of my team. While most of what I learned could be applied to my civilian job, a few lessons stood out. I describe below a brief list of the lessons that I feel could be beneficial for companies of all sizes and backgrounds to consider.
1. Instill trust – Perhaps no other principle is more foundational than developing trust in one’s subordinates. Invest in long-term relationships with your employees, get to know them; develop personal relationships with team members. Building trust starts at the top; push as many decisions as possible down to your subordinates and do it publicly to build a sense of confidence that allows employees to take initiative, which will empower them to grow your organization at their respective levels. Building effective trust between team members allows your force to be active rather than reactive.
Personal initiative is the hallmark of success. Inter-level trust is the foundation that allows it to form.
2. Lead by example – “You are now at the first rank, where you may be expected to order a Marine to take action resulting in his or her death. So tell me, why the hell should your Marines follow you?” Words spoken to us by our Sergeant Major at graduation at the end of a Corporal’s Leadership Course. In the corporate world, it’s unlikely that you will be placed in such an extreme position, however the question still stands: “why should anyone follow you?”
Set the example: be a role-model in the behavior and work ethic that you expect from others. Build a community mindset that encourages trust by taking care of your subordinates. Anyone can bark orders and expect an employee to complete them with the understanding that their employment may be terminated if they fail to comply. Real leaders understand that the goal is not to enforce compliance and productivity, but to elicit high performance because your people want to deliver it. Gaining trust is the first step in effective leadership, fostering mutual respect by taking care of your people is how you maintain it.
3. Encourage direct communication – During one of my first jobs as a civilian, I was amazed at how much time was wasted in conversations to politely drive a point home. Veterans are accustomed to a culture of brusque feedback that demands immediate action. Naturally, there must be enough trust between subordinates and leaders to encourage such dialogue. Listen to your subordinates and encourage them to present their views without fearing backlash. Encourage them to act decisively and to stand by their decisions when they do.