Recently on LinkedIn, I answered a question on the applicability of military leadership to the business world.
Q? Is the military model of leadership really applicable to the business world?
A: Short answer...yes. I believe there is great applicability between the military model for leadership and the business world. I am still in the military but am in my second stint working within a civilian organization - now a public engineering organization with nearly a $1B annual program. I write extensively about leadership lessons from both worlds in my newsletter and my blog. Bottom line - in my opinion - business is not combat. But...leadership is leadership.
What is important to understand is that the leadership model seen in the movies, or even what is commonly understood as the top-down, command and control model - is not what you will see in today's military. This is especially true in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where this approach simply won't work. What you will find instead is much more aligned with today's business environment:
- Decentralized, intent-based, empowering leadership. When you cannot be everywhere in which your mission takes place (mid to higher level officer ranks to be sure), you cannot tell people how to do stuff. Instead, you focus on what must be done (tasks, mission orders) and why (purpose, intent). Empowered subordinates, trained and resourced for success, will take care of the rest. No difference.
- Information, network-centric operations. Today's military is totally wired, completely networked, often down to the soldier on the ground. Distributed operations based on a shared common operational picture allow leaders to make quick decisions, shift resources, and focus on what is (versus what was, i.e. traditional stove-pipe, analog reporting) and what will be (again, enabled by an understanding of the operational picture). All of this only works when people communicate, when leaders circulate the battlefield and move to where the action is, and when the team understands that information is everything. Technology, equipment, etc. are focused on enabling the success of the people who do the work. No difference.
- Values and culture. Military leadership focuses on creating a culture based on values (things like duty, honor, loyalty, integrity), trust, and a belief that every member of the team is important. It's not who you know, it's what you do. Successful leaders understand that it is all about people...and ethical performance. No difference.
Again, business is not combat. Life and death leadership principles may not work in the real world. But this is not the norm. What will work is selfless leadership, a passion for execution, and a belief in themselves (confidence and competence) and the team which they serve. No difference! Hooah!
I do feel pretty strongly about this issue (hence this blog site!). But I also know that not everything we do in the military is directly translatable to the business world. Pushups, marching, court martials, etc. won't necessarily work well in most organizations. But the core issues, things like empowerment, communication, values, learning, discipline, people...these are the components of military leadership that we would want to see in any team.
So what do you think? Did I answer this one right?
This is Leader Business.