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Leadership Lessons From The Military

February 2, 2020

A great many aspects of military thinking and ethos have permeated the management zeitgeist and become part of modern business and political strategy, from ‘no plan survives first contact’ through to ‘all warfare is based on deception’. However, if we put Helmuth von Moltke and Sun Tzu to one side, it is the military’s approach to leadership that provides the most powerful and impactful lessons for business.

Today’s Armed Forces operate in an increasingly uncertain and complex environment, which means that effective leadership is more challenging and more important than ever. The core tenet of military leadership is trust. Trust between leaders and those they lead.

To quote directly from the Army Leadership Code: “Leaders have a duty to provide the guidance, including resources and constraints, that allow subordinates to use their initiative and judgment. In return, subordinates have a duty to act with loyalty and discipline. Trust is a two-way process that is guaranteed by every soldier, whether leader or led.”

Surely the transparent yet resolute nature of this ethos is one that any business should not only admire but aspire to implement and embody?

The Army Leadership Code identifies seven leadership behaviours:

  • Lead by example
  • Encourage thinking
  • Apply reward and discipline
  • Demand high performance
  • Encourage confidence in the team
  • Recognise individual strengths and weaknesses
  • Strive for team goals

This code is founded on the core values of Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty and Selfless Commitment.

Whether a business is a hedge fund, an engineering works or even a football team, their coaching and management systems can be structured in a way that reflects the above values. After all, if it works for those charged with defending the very ground upon which we walk, surely it can benefit those kicking a ball, manufacturing machines, or making money.

It may surprise some readers to learn that their organisations already employ military principles and systems. The concept of SMART Goals, for example, is one that will be familiar to many:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

The military regard goal setting as a versatile and effective coaching tool that can improve an individual’s or team’s performance. Breaking down long-term objectives into short-term goals allows for immediate improvements in performance to be identified, which in turn result in increased motivation.

Pretty SMART, right?

Graham Brown, Managing Director of Forces Recruitment Services, believes that aspects of military management ethos and practice can be absorbed, almost by osmosis, into a company’s culture, by employing those with a career background in the Army, Navy, RAF, or Marines:

“Almost from day one in uniform, Forces personnel are presented with leadership challenges and opportunities. Throughout the course of a military career they develop an exceptional ability to lead, delegate, motivate and communicate. When they are given the opportunity to apply these skills in Civvy Street, ex-Service men and women can have a hugely positive impact on organisations and workplaces.”

Learn how Forces Recruitment Services can help you harness the benefits of employing ex-military managers.


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