Article: Business leadership notes from the Army


Business leadership notes from the Army

Military officers face some of the toughest life and death decisions every day. They operate in a vast institution that is larger than the biggest business conglomerates in the world. Yet, they do it with ease.
Business leadership notes from the Army

Making the right decision is expected from a leader by default. But often, when the pressure of making a split-second decision is high, even the finest leaders can falter and make the wrong decision that can have an adverse impact on the organization, people, and their careers. Military officers are often faced with similar situations where they have to make a split-second decision that may even result in loss of life. How do they do it? And what can they teach business leaders about split-second decision making?

Empowering people

First and foremost, the military is constantly developing individuals to take decisive action by empowering them. The skills, competence and acumen of an individual are linked with their success or failure. Empowering them, therefore, is about entrusting them with responsibility and giving them the freedom to succeed or fail.

In the business environment, not delivering results on time might seem like a big failure. But consider the ramifications of failure for a military officer, it could result in the loss of life of the men and women under his command. The size of a team, continuous changes in the team structure and on-ground events, geographical distances, and even stringent criteria for promotions and dismissal are all common between the battlefield and the boardroom. Yet, the military invests in developing individual decision making skills. As a result, these challenges are easily mitigated when the need arises. The lesson here for organizations is that cultivating leaders at every level is not optional, but a necessity to ensure effectiveness of scale.

Positioning the leader for increased effectiveness

Leaders must be seen where they are needed the most. Military leaders position themselves at the optimal position from where they can keep a close eye on the proceedings, and influence the outcome without getting involved in the details. Similarly, for any organization, having the top leadership omnipresent can be counterproductive. A CEO cannot be absent in every situation. If he does so, he risks being seen as incompetent or worse, not interested in his responsibilities. If he constantly stays at the front, he runs the risk of losing precious time in non-strategic tasks and losing perspective. This is where empowering people and developing a second and third line of leadership is essential who can act as lieutenants as and when the need arises.

Calculated risk taking and judgment calls

Every leader must possess the ability to understand the situation, its potential outcomes and the need to take charge. Military leaders might have to make a judgment call with minimal information that may lead to uncertainty and additional risk. But they have to evaluate that risk versus inaction that might put lives in danger. Business leaders may not be facing life and death situations, but they do need to be comfortable with uncertainty and possess critical thinking abilities to be able to make these judgment calls. Such decisions may not be perfect, but they’ll be better than complete paralysis of the corporate machinery.

Military officers are groomed to be leaders. The lessons and qualities of empathy, integrity, courage, composure in crisis, communication and decision making that officers acquire in the battlefield can be extremely relevant and valuable for the boardroom battlegrounds. Military officers have been doing it for much longer than any business leader, and business leaders who truly wish to succeed would undoubtedly be well advised to learn from them.

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Topics: Leadership

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