How To Practice Military Leadership

How To Practice Military Leadership

How To Practice Military Leadership

How To Practice Military Leadership

How To Practice Military Leadership

Leaders—true leaders—aren’t average people.

The average person doesn’t choose to swim upstream while others swiftly float downstream, or zig when others choose to zag.

But having the courage, character and confidence to enter into the abysmal unknown and create value—personally and organizationally—for others is exactly what constitutes leadership and exactly what defines them as leaders.

The motivation to grow, to become a better version of yourself and “show up”—which is a choice in itself— better than how you showed up yesterday is an ongoing battle.

Sustaining your competitive advantage as a leader, as a team, and as an organization is a daily grind, but if you don’t live up to the purpose that defines you as a leader then you lose the war—of “relevance.”

High-pressure situations, thinking fast on your feet, being able to take risks—sound familiar?

It’s no wonder that the same traits that make a good military leader also translate into the business world.

While the numbers are dwindling, many CEOs of major companies have spent time in the armed forces, and some research even points to a correlation between military experience and high-level leadership performance.

Leadership is paramount to the success of any army. Leaders not only make life and death decisions but directly control the climate and quality of life of their subordinates.

How do we as leaders inspire our teams? And how do companies get everyone on the same page when it comes to purpose?

The 11 principles of leadership were first developed in 1948 and first published in an Army Field Manual on Leadership in 1951 more than 60 years ago. What is fascinating is that they are still taught, basically unmodified, ever since. Today they are still used by all the Armed Forces in basic training including Marines, Air Force, and Navy – from entry level privates to officers at all levels.

Anatomy of Leaders
It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.Norman Schwarzkopf
What is the real definition of leadership?

rule of thumbField Manual 6-22, Leader Development, defines leadership as “the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.”

For anyone in a leadership role, and even for those who aren’t, I consider the following a useful list of way points, which I hope some may find at least of interest, and hopefully of some use.

The Core Leadership Principles

Hereafter, the classic list of US Armed Forces Leadership Principles:

Know yourself and seek self-improvement

Understand who you are, your values, priorities, strengths and weaknesses. Knowing yourself allows you to discover your strengths and weaknesses.

Self-improvement is a process of sustaining strengths and overcoming weaknesses, thus increasing competence and the confidence people have in your leadership ability.

You can’t manage or lead others until you know how to manage or lead yourself. What this looks like is making the right personal choices that serve your role, whether it be personal or professional.

Knowing yourself allows you to discover your strengths and weaknesses. Share on X

The most successful people don’t “pencil in” exercise when windows of opportunity open, they open those windows themselves by scheduling their workouts into their daily routine.

The sense of accomplishment yielded from your efforts will build the mental toughness you need to hone the mental edge, and will have a snowball effect on your self-confidence.

Be technically and tactically proficient

Before leaders can lead effectively, they must have mastered the tasks required by the people they lead.

In addition, leaders train their people to do their own jobs while understudying the leader so that they are prepared to replace the leader if necessary. Likewise, leaders must understudy their leader in the event they must assume those duties.

Everyone Is a Leader. Ready to lead, ready to follow. Share on X

It is important to empower your staff and drive home the fact that everyone is a leader. Pushing people to levels that may make them uncomfortable helps to shape and mold them. The best leaders do this and, in turn, ultimately develop leaders for the future.

Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates

People feel a sense of pride and responsibility when they successfully accomplish a new task. 

Delegation indicates trust in people and encourages them to seek responsibility.

Develop people by giving them challenges and opportunities that stretch them and more responsibility when they demonstrate they are ready. Their initiative will amaze you.

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” – General George S. Patton Share on X

Being helpful is such an easy thing to do, but we all fail at this from time to time.

Helping others is the most human act we can all do daily. Whether it is someone on the street, a neighbor, a coworker or peer, helping someone else pays in dividends.

Make sound and timely decisions

Leaders must assess situations rapidly and make sound decisions.

They need to know when to make decisions themselves, when to consult with people before deciding and when to delegate the decision.

Leaders must know the factors to consider when deciding how, when and if to make decisions. Good decisions made at the right time are better than the best decisions made too late.

“Never give an order that can’t be obeyed.” – General Douglas MacArthur Share on X

Do not delay or try to avoid a decision when one is necessary. Indecisive leaders create hesitancy, loss of confidence and confusion. In war, lack of decisiveness can have fatal consequences.

warningOnce you make up your mind, stick to your decision. Never show yourself to be indecisive.

Leaders must anticipate and reason under the most trying conditions and quickly decide what actions to take. Gather essential information before making decisions. Announce decisions in time for people to react.

Set an example

People want and need their leaders to be role models.

This is a heavy responsibility, but leaders have no choice. No aspect of leadership is more powerful.

If leaders expect courage, responsibility, initiative, competence, commitment and integrity from their direct reports, they must demonstrate them.

“The most important thing I learned is that soldiers watch what their leaders do. You can give them classes and lecture them forever, but it is your personal example they will follow.” – General Colin Powell Share on X

rule of thumbPeople will imitate a leader’s behavior.

Leaders set high but attainable standards for performance and are willing to do what they require of their people. Leaders share hardships with their people and know that their personal example affects behavior more than any amount of instruction or form of discipline.

Know your people and look out for their welfare

It is not enough to know the names and birth dates of your people.

You need to understand what motivates them and what is important to them. Commit time and effort to listen to and learn about them.

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” – Theodore Roosevelt Share on X

rule of thumbShowing genuine concern for your people builds trust and respect for you as a leader.

Telling your people you care about them has no meaning unless they see you demonstrating it. They assume that if you fail to care for them daily, you will fail them when the going gets tough.

Being helpful is such an easy thing to do, but we all fail at this from time to time. Helping others is the most human act we can all do daily. Whether it is someone on the street, a neighbor, a coworker or peer, helping someone else pays in dividends.

Keep your people informed

rule of thumbPeople do best when they know why they are doing something.

Keeping people informed helps people make decisions and execute plans within your intent, encourages initiative, improves teamwork and enhances morale.

The ability to communicate information effectively within any organisation is fundamental to its successful management. The ability for a leader to disseminate information, but in doing so ensuring it is fully understood by every member of the team is a game changer.

“Clarity and simplicity are the antidotes to complexity and uncertainty.”– General George Casey Share on X

A leader must ensure that his people understand. In the Army, and in business, creating shared understanding also means ensuring every team member understands what the other does and that there’s minimal overlap in responsibilities.

If people truly understand what they are being told, moving on from ‘what’, to ‘how’ and ‘why’, and what it means to them, co-ordinated activity and unity of effort will drive the team to the ultimate objective.

If no one truly understands what is happening and why, they cannot be expected to drive towards the collective goal.

Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions

Leading always involves responsibility.

Leaders want people who can handle responsibility and help achieve goals. They expect others to take the initiative within their stated intent.

When you see a problem or something that needs to be fixed, do not wait to be told to act. 

“Great powers don’t get angry, great powers don’t make decisions hastily in a crisis.” – General John Allen Share on X

Some leaders have an inner motor that pushes them to get to the heart of an issue and find solutions. They drill for specific answers and don’t give up until they get them. Their high energy is infectious.

When leaders make mistakes, they accept just criticism and take corrective action. They do not avoid responsibility by placing the blame on someone else.

rule of thumbBe decisive. Lack of decisiveness can have fatal consequences.

Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished

Your people must understand what you want done, to what standard and by when.

Supervising lets you know if people understand your instructions; it shows your interest in them and in goal accomplishment.

warningOver-supervision causes resentment while under-supervision causes frustration.

When people are learning new tasks tell them what you want done and show them how. Let them try. Observe their performance. Reward performance that exceeds expectations; correct performance that does not.

“Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader.” – General George S. Patton Share on X

Determine the cause of the poor performance and take appropriate action. When you hold people accountable for their performance, they realize they are responsible for accomplishing goals as individuals and as teams.

Train your people as a team

Teamwork is becoming more and more crucial to achieving goals.

Teamwork is possible only when people have trust and respect for their leader and for each other as competent professionals and see the importance of their contributions to the organization.

rule of thumbDevelop a team spirit among people to motivate them to perform willingly and confidently.

Ensure that individuals know their roles and responsibilities within the team framework. Train and cross train people until they are confident in the team’s abilities.

“You manage things; you lead people.” – General Colin Powell Share on X

Cohesive teams also flourish when the commander balances subordinate needs with mission requirements and takes the time and thoughtfulness to build a consensus.

Finally, quickly resolving conflict and creating a positive environment to foster teamwork rounds out the conditions for a tightly-knit team–all things you can put into practice immediately.

Employ your team in accordance with its capabilities

rule of thumbLeaders must know their work unit’s capabilities and limitations.

People gain satisfaction from performing tasks that are reasonable and challenging but are frustrated if tasks are too easy, unrealistic or unattainable.

If the task assigned is one that people have not been trained to do, failure is very likely to result.

Hire for character, train for competence, coach for performance. Share on X

Too often hiring managers look for the brightest ball of competence in their applicants, such as the recently graduated MBA who will fit nicely into the next job opening without any need for additional training.

warningYes, competence is great, but skill without will is a loose firehose.

If you want the recipe for success, it looks like this: hire for character, train for competence, coach for performance. It’s simple, it’s effective and you won’t go wrong.

Accept prudent risk. The Field Manual defines this as carefully assessing and managing risk (not avoiding it) while making good decisions about allocating resources that would help improve the likelihood of success behind the risk. So get good at assessing what defines a “prudent” risk and couple it with a plan for allocating supporting resources.

Final Thoughts
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.Abraham Lincoln

Practicing the above leadership principles will cultivate not only better personal performance, but better business.

For any leaders reading this, I hope they assist you in making your teams, whom you will feel privileged to lead, happier, more effective, motivated, and driven towards collective excellence.

I hope these learnings will help you as a leader and, more importantly, help you develop your team. Think about how you work with your team today.

How can you inspire others? How can you drive culture and develop your team to be their best?

You set the tone, make sure you set the correct one. Lead like a general and become a more exceptional leader. 

Ready for All, Yielding to None!

If you enjoyed the article or have any comments, recommendations, or tips for improvement please do comment below.

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4 years ago

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How To Practice Military Leadership

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