I managed to leave the British Army without too many scars. Throughout my 13 years in the military, I was able to craft many skills that made me a better soldier as well as a leader. In this article, I discuss five leadership lessons that the military taught me.
1. Lead From The Front
A capable leader will always lead from the front. Don’t expect those who report to you to be doing something that you’re not prepared to do or don’t have the experience in doing it at their level. All military leaders started at the bottom and therefore have, at some point in time, experienced what their subordinates do on a daily basis. If you’re not prepared to get your hands dirty, don’t expect your team to do the same. “Lead by example” is another term used for this leadership lesson.
2. Listen Carefully and Trust
A solid leader will consume much more information and produce far less product. That way, the product they do produce is often accurate and timely. Making good and timely decisions is often based on being well informed by a trusted and capable team. If you do not trust them, they will hesitate making their own decisions and in carrying out their actions — a recipe for delayed response or even complete failure.
3. Discipline Discipline Discipline
Every good leader has an abundance of discipline. In the military, discipline starts on day one of basic training and never leaves you. When preparing for battle, you need to be disciplined in your preparations to ensure you are as ready as you possibly can be. It shouldn’t be any different when dealing with a corporate crisis. Having regular briefing cycles that are disciplined will ensure that you are organized and situationally aware throughout the incident. Preparing for a crisis with regular training and exercises also requires a disciplined approach.
4. Preparation is the Key to Success
In the military, preparing for battle is ongoing. Many modern day militaries have access to unlimited resources and have time to run through “war games” to prepare themselves for many eventualities. An Army that has time to plan and practice will often be victorious. Planning and practice are especially relevant with smaller Special Forces teams that are agile and quick. Many organizations don’t have all the resources and the time to be as prepared as a Special Forces team, but this doesn’t mean that as a company you shouldn’t prepare. Validate what resources you have and make a plan to train and exercise based on those resources. There may not be a budget, but you may have internal expertise that can support such a program.
5. Being Situationally Aware
The key asset in decision making, whether for crisis management or for military operations is information. Effective management of information is crucial, and the best leaders know this. At some point, information should be processed into a form that can be used as a coherent basis for decision-making. This is called situational awareness (SA). SA is the concept of developing the ability to observe your environment, orientate to rapid changes, and make decisions and act upon those decisions at a quick pace during high-tempo operations. SA also goes beyond knowing the now; it is also being able to assess the implications of what is (and what is not) going on and to project how the current situation might evolve in the future. As a leader of a complex situation, it is important to recognize that at all times during the crisis there is a clear understanding between what is definitely known, what is rumor or assumptions, and what is being reported by others (e.g., media, social media, local first responders, regulatory agencies, etc.). Good SA leads to what often is referred to as the “Common Operational Picture,” that is, the same understanding by everyone of what has occurred, what actions are underway to address the crisis, and what is the desired outcome.
Developing SA is a deliberate, active, and disciplined process that requires practice and should be exercised on a frequent basis. Developing the ability as a leader to achieve SA is a great benefit; but having the ability to achieve it as a team is the ultimate goal.