Dov Seidman’s recent HuffingtonPost piece got me thinking about my own military experience and its non-basic training for business leadership:
As an organizational psychologist and combat veteran, consulting with corporate and government clients on the topic of organizational culture, I wholeheartedly agree. Military leadership may be perceived as “strict discipline” and “mindless followership” by those who have not experienced it firsthand, but the reality is, in today’s fluid combat environment, our leaders and soldiers must be able to adapt quickly and think on their feet. A core set of guiding principles and values in conjunction with intense training and development has enabled our military forces to adapt to the changing face of combat in impressive ways.
After our victory in WWII, it’s not surprising that the values to hierarchy and command and control would become engrained in the civilian sector as “the right way to do things” and, at the time, they were extremely effective, driving our economy to great heights, creating a strong middle class and creating the most highly educated society in the world. As the world situation evolved and warfare became less “stand toe-to-toe and duke it out” and more decentralized and nebulous, our military organizations had to adapt in ways that changed the face of warfare in dramatic ways.
Blind followership would become less effective as warfare became more dependent on small units operating somewhat independently across long distances. Small unit leaders and their soldiers had to learn how to succeed in very nebulous environments, to accomplish their mission nonetheless. They did this by rightfully training their leaders to lead by a core set of fundamental principles and to do the “right thing at the right time” as LTC Glick stated in the article.
While the military doesn’t need to show profit every month, I would argue that the price they pay for failure is exponentially greater than any for-profit business could ever fathom. Leaders in the civilian world who fail to understand that the world is evolving around them and who attempt to shape the world to fit their ways of working rather than adapting to be most successful certainly run the risk of becoming extinct.
I use the principles that I learned as an officer in the Army every day in my own business with great success. Not only is my team fully capable to working in nebulous situations, they are able to do so while working with ever-changing team structures, designed to best serve the diverse needs of our clients. My team is guided by a clear set of fundamental core principles and ways of operating and they are given an enormous amount of autonomy in HOW they actually accomplish their mission.
If the civilian sector can get past the stereotypes that many hold about the military I would suggest that there are a great many lessons that could be adapted to their work. These lessons have be learned as a result of a great many lessons learned and lives lost and if they are passed off as ‘only applicable in a military context’ I’m afraid that we may be missing some extremely valuable learnings.