This is a guest post by John Durfee.
We were held down by AK47 fire in the middle of a crowded city. All the civilians scattered while the bullets whizzed and cracked into walls, gouging holes in the mortar and sandstone. For a moment all was chaos, we didn’t know where the fire was coming from. In the haze and noise we heard the booming voice of our captain yelling out orders.
Suddenly our training kicked in, and we fell into defensive formations. Each step of the way, we were guided by his strong and present voice. We gathered the wounded, started suppressive fire, and evacuated the area. Thanks to our captain’s leadership, we all made it out that day.
A good leader holds the same principles whether they are in charge of a platoon of soldiers, or if they’re the CEO of a company. Generals and CEOs need to have the same sense of vision, drive, and planning in order to make their teams survive and thrive.
In today’s economy, a sense of battle in the marketplace is apparent, as competition for customers and profits is high. In battle, it’s the goal of an army to make enemy attacks less effective, and eventually conquer.
This lesson is especially apparent to me as I’ve gone from being a soldier on the front lines to a supervisor of a small group of office workers. In my efforts to learn more about strong leadership I find myself going back to my former commanding officers, as well as famous American generals, for lessons and guidance.
Here are some pearls of wisdom from the military world that can readily be applied to the workplace:
“I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.” Robert E. Lee
The strength of an Army can be seen from the strength of its leaders. Your team will follow you, and will only work as hard as you show them too.
If you tell your team you expect absolute excellence from them, you have to show absolute excellence in everything you do. You put in the extra hours, you’re the last one to leave, and nothing surprises you because you’re commanding every aspect of your operation.
“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with
me the sunshine of my prosperity.” Ulysses S. Grant
A great leader also has to have great lieutenants. These are people who you know you
can rely on when situations become hectic or stressful. In a battlefield they can take command when need be, watch your flanks from attack, and scout ahead of the unit. They naturally possess an element of self-motivation and tenacity.
In the office, they are the people who are Johnny-On-The-spot, who have the files you’re about to ask for in their arms and your appointments scheduled. You want to try and encourage individuals that show this promise by giving them more responsibility.
CEO Bill Gates put it best when he said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” By encouraging growth, your team stay competitive in the market, and you help the company grow as a whole.
“Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.” George S. Patton
Growth happens when you are challenged. Maintaining the status quo means you’re giving someone else the chance to blaze right by you.
In larger corporations, this can be evident. I know friends that work in teams competing on the same projects for approval. You can guess that the teams whose projects get chosen most often are the first pick when its time for promotions.
If your team becomes relied upon, then you are seen as the hardest working group. Thus, you produce the most value for the company and you’ll quickly make a name for yourselves. You won’t be doing it through office politics or rumors, but through the simple, hard, and constant application of firepower and force on your goals and projects.
Bill Gates is the master of staying ahead of the pack. He says of the software world, “In this business, by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself. Unless you’re running scared all the time, you’re gone.” Those who aren’t growing are falling behind. Rather, if you’re not shooting, you end up being the one getting shot at.
“Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.” George Washington
“We need to learn to set our course by the stars, not by the light of every passing ship.” Omar N. Bradley
The successful leader is the one whose goals encompass the longer term. They measure success in years and campaigns, rather than days and individual battles.
For example, there’s the young and talented doctor who made it through medical school years younger than her peers. Or the CEO who started a company from scratch and became a millionaire before reaching the age of 35. That medical student had to study countless late night hours to earn her degree. The CEO had to travel all over the United States in order to network and bargain for every dollar of profit. Through persistence and dogged determination, they pushed themselves inch by inch into their success.
As a manager you need to keep that sense of scope. If you make mistakes, that’s fine too. CEO Jack Welch says, “Mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success.” You can learn from your mistakes and adapt.
Now that I’m somewhere in the middle of the chain of command, I can see the progress of those new recruits just starting out. One of my former commanders told me, “To lead an army you must never forget what it feels like to be a soldier on the ground.” With all these lessons in mind and my own experience, I try to lead my staff, my soldiers, into battle to win.