Businesses thrive or unravel based on leadership. It can't be taken for granted and should be consistently fostered.
The 2018 Workplace Learning Report, in which LinkedIn surveyed 500 learning and development leaders from companies across North America, found that 27 percent of organizations increased spending for their learning and development teams in 2017. These investments aren't just about managing the company better—they're about managing and developing its people better.
While these investments show the importance placed on individual development, my personal management style wasn't honed during a seminar or a leadership conference. It was formed during my eight years in the military and as a U.S. special operations officer and strike force commander, an honor that gifted me a lifetime's worth of experience working with and learning from a wide array of people.
Business, like the armed services, unites individuals behind a common purpose and a common set of operating principles or values. And neither can succeed without strong leadership.
Special Ops or Business: Leadership Is the Same
Despite an Ivy League MBA and several academic and professional credentials, I can't claim to be an expert in finance, operations or any other technical field. The military did, however, teach me about people, which I believe are the most critical resource any business has at its disposal.
Combat zones are raw and unforgiving proving grounds that carry far-reaching global ramifications. Combat leaders who lead teams into them have to assemble their units, establish credibility within them, then build the individual members into a cohesive team.
Business leaders are tasked with a similar responsibility. They have to build teams with a shared purpose, trust, commitment, decisiveness, responsibility and versatility. The following principles that I learned in battle can help business leaders develop teams with those same traits:
1. Give away the win; bear the fail.
Employees don't always receive meaningful recognition from a high-level leader or CEO. That reminds me of a valuable lesson my old company commander taught me: Deflect praise when a mission succeeds, but take the blame when it falters.
He'd always give us the resources we needed to accomplish any mission. When we completed the mission successfully, he shared the praise within the team; if we failed, he'd publicly take the heat and then go over our mistakes and next steps behind closed doors.
Gratitude and accountability are two values any leader would love to see a team hold dear. Knowing a leader will be gracious in good times and supportive during bad ones can inspire employees to be both loyal and productive. Each of those traits pays dividends in business and combat.
2. Lead with purpose, not just orders.
Thankfully, my time serving under that commander saw more successes than failures. That's largely because every task he assigned had a sense of a greater purpose. It wasn't enough to say, “Execute this mission." Rather, the orders would be, “Execute this mission so we can secure a key figure in al-Qaida's network," which taught the “why" behind the “what."
Knowing the importance of a task and how it impacts the larger mission locks everyone in and makes them more committed to success. The same is true in business. As leaders, we can take the time to articulate the bigger purpose so our team members buy into the mission and strive to complete it.
3. Build the team outside the trenches.
Before, during and after each of these missions, our team largely stayed together, which gave us the chance to build a familial bond away from combat. We not only got to know each other better, but we built a camaraderie that made us a much more effective unit in the field.
That same sense of community exists among the team at my current company. One way we build community is by volunteering at a local outreach, where we tutor kids grades K-7 in various school subjects. Since our first weekend volunteering, employee engagement has risen, client output has improved, co-workers have continued to bond outside of work and, consequently, have connected better at work as well.
Great leaders attract the right people—not always the best ones—and create an environment where the right people can become an exceptional team. Combat leadership taught me that, and business leadership has only solidified my belief in the same. With these few lessons, you can put the correct pieces in place for a staff that takes your business to new heights—without the rigors of combat.