How to improve your firm’s leadership ability: 3 lessons from the military.

The World Economic Forum puts the 2015 global military spending at US$13.6 trillion. That is the amount required to maintain the current level of relative peace. Men and women in uniform after much training risk their lives to defend lives and property from some of the most dangerous threats to the end that we have a safer world. There is much to be learned from such a group – designed to protect with the use of force and that at the risk of their own lives. But what does it take to go from being a fresh recruit to running highly organised military campaigns in different parts of the globe? Some would say training, others leadership, yet other would suggest a higher sense of mission.

Here’s a look at a few points we could pick from the military;

1. Focus on building your people.

CFO: “What happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

Peter Baeklund

Research by Manpower group observes that firms that show sustained improvements in performance invest in their people through competitive remuneration, training, and mentorship programs. And while there is the challenge of what to do when an employee is trained and leaves, another question presents itself; What if the employee is not trained and she stays? This question becomes even more critical where tasks managed by such an employee require judgment, empathy and the need to be objective in emotionally conflicting situations.

Trained professionals have been shown to have better results than those who were not trained. Again, the military is known not only for its investment in manpower development, but also in working with people as they are. Ever wished you had a better intern; smarter, faster and more interested in work? Well, the military expects you to work with what you have, making it clear that the evaluation of your managerial ability will be based on improvements demonstrated by the ‘misfit’ recruit. This is unlike the corporate world where the general trend is to manage up or out.

Taking investment in people further, unmanned combat aerial vehicles (popularly known as drones) are increasingly being used by the military today to avoid the casualties of war. Fewer military personnel are now at risk of losing their lives because drones now do more of the fighting.

Military company


2. Have a strong sense of mission

“Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”

Excerpt, Foreign Policy of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt

The military is driven by a strong need to ensure peace and stability in regions assigned. There are fewer missions stronger than protecting world peace and while this may be achieved by diplomacy, military backing is usually a strong deterrent to destabilising forces. Think about it; where peace and security are absent not much development can occur. An article by the International Risk Management Institute indicates that foreign investors critically consider regional stability and national security frameworks before investing. According to the Telegraph, tourists as potentially significant source of revenue are strongly attracted to safe and beautifully designed locations.

What’s the take home for businesses from all this? Businesses need to direct all efforts towards a central mission.  This mission should shape the organisation’s culture and translate into a workable strategy with measurable objectives. It is no longer news that many mission statements are beautifully framed at some central location in many offices – but are rarely followed on a companywide level. With a strong sense of mission, firms make better decisions, true to what they stand for and have greater impact.

 3. Invest in tools key to your business area.

Manager and secretary working in the office

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. “

Abraham Lincoln

Generally speaking, military training is regarded as one of the most difficult methods of capacity development available, added to investments in the latest technology, field weapons, mental training and the like. The best armies are known to spare little expense when acquiring military equipment. This is because the difference in the field of battle is not unconnected to the quality of weaponry, amongst other things. Firms need to make investments in the latest technologies central to success in their business area. The right tools aid increased productivity through enhanced communication for improved collaboration and the sharing of ideas. Again, the chances of innovation are higher where the right tools are in place which is why some of the most innovative companies are also known to invest in the best work tools.

Here’s a recap of what we’ve looked at;

  1. Focus on building your people.
  2. Have a strong sense of mission.
  3. Invest in tools key to your business area.

The author can be reached here

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