A recent WSJ article interviewed retired Generals Stan McChrystal Group and Mike Flynn (full disclosure: I currently work for the McChrystal Group) about their experiences on the battlefield and the applicability of these lessons towards business.
Now, while competition connotes a different meaning for business as it does for the military, the principles of defeating the competition through a sound strategy and detailed execution are the same. Below are seven leadership takeaways from the battlefield for the boardroom:
1. Location is everything. Location affords opportunities that otherwise wouldn't occur-just ask a street vendor, a realtor, or a police officer waiting behind a bush with a radar gun. The people with whom you interact daily help increase idea flow (or completely block it). What does this mean for business? Plenty.
The silos that divide businesses do so physically and culturally, as communication flow becomes stifled and trust deteriorates because interaction is less frequent.
Furthermore, reporting to the same desk every day and interacting with the same people restricts new conversational sparks. Remember Einstein's quote: "no problem can be solved from the same thinking that created it." In other words, constancy and habit can void the potential for any opportunity to evolve , and location is a significant determinant of this. Location is everything.
2. Decisions, decisions. Decisions are increasingly complex in today's competitive landscape as the amount of information grows exponentially by the hour. As a result, sifting through mounds of data has become a whole new workday in itself (I know you go through work emails on the weekend).
Here's the solution: if you need more time to make decisions, dedicate time in your calendar to decide. Make every day at four o'clock or every Friday the time in which you move the needle on important decisions.
3. Watch your tongue, Mister! Having clear and concise language is critical to decision-making because it leaves little room for ambiguity. In my experience as a consultant on organizational adaptability, company strategy oftentimes lack clarity. Being the "Number One Seller of Product X In the World" isn't a clear strategy because the term "number one" can be interpreted in many different ways (i.e. revenue, profit, market share). If your company strategy cannot be explained to a child, chances are adults will be just as confused.
4. What got you here won't get you there. Entering the workforce as a new employee out of college, one has a myopic view of business performance requirements simply because he or she lacks practical experience.
However, moving up the chain and into a position of management, one's business aperture widens because there is more exposure and more insight gained.
Ultimately, moving into a position of leadership affords the broadest view of the business landscape because the responsibility is greater, as he or she must move around the pieces of the puzzle so they "fit" in the most cost effective and efficient way while also being on line with the company's purpose.
The leadership challenge here is this: the tendency to rely upon the same practices that made one an effective manager and apply that know-how to leadership because, well, it must've worked because you're promoted, right?
What makes a good manager is different from what makes a good leader, and it takes feedback and self-awareness to bring this realization to light.
5. Speed and agility -it's not just for athletes. The rate at which information travels today is faster than ever before, and it will only increase. The speed and interconnectivity of global partnerships today lends a new capability-a requirement, really-that businesses must adopt and adapt if they want to remain competitive: agility.
Agility is an organization's ability to detect and act upon new opportunities before the competition does; the ability to move at a moment's notice based on new information, and doing so necessitates a critically undervalued competency that requires daily effort: communication-clear and consistent communication that must be delivered from above (C suite) and reinforced from the bottom (managers).
6. Turning strategy into execution. This is the largest problem organizational leaders face, as per the cited WSJ article, because they just don't have the context of what the problem looks like and how to deal with it effectively. The problem set that a soldier on the battlefield faces is much different than that of the theater commander, yet both ultimately point towards the same purpose. The challenge is identifying the bumps in the road for where communication goes askew.
7. Fuse it all together. During his tenure as commander of Joint Special Operations Command, General (Ret.) Stan McChrystal implemented what became known as fusion cells. Fusion cells forced a culture of transparency and inclusion across different branches of government by serving as a central location to communicate and collaborate towards a common goal that every agency shared: winning. The results were astounding: a 94 percent increase in monthly raids between 2004 and 2006.
At the end of the day, no matter what sector or industry you work in, a leader's job isn't just to make decisions that benefit the organization. Nobody can do this alone because a single person can't possibly have all the information-the most accurate information-all the time. Instead, a leader's job is to create a culture where employees can make decisions autonomously because they understand the long- and short-term intent of the company and the internal and external implications of those decisions. Bullets just help expedite the process.