Military Leadership Truisms for Everyday Leaders

Not just for the military...Walking through Barnes and Noble yesterday, I found myself again perusing the shelves of the Leadership section.  It never fails to astound me how many books are churned out on the topic, and correspondingly, how often we hear stories of failed leadership.  If leading others were as easy as writing about it, we’d clearly be set!

In spite of the glut of resources espousing everything from emotional intelligent leadership to servant leadership to change management, each of us has a few foundational works to which we tend to revert time and again.  For me, every year or two, I find myself revisiting a book given to me by a mentor when I was shipped off to Navy Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, Florida in 1997.  With seven years leadership experience as a non-commissioned officer under my belt, I was skeptical an “official” Navy leadership book could provide me much in the ways of inspiring, motivating, and influencing a team of followers.  I was wrong….dead wrong.

The Division Officer’s Guide, written by Commander James Stavridis, isn’t earth shattering in the depth or breadth of its leadership insights.  But it does frame a solid and thoughtful discussion of leadership within the culture of the organization – naval service and tradition.  And in providing insight into the people-focused culture of naval leadership, it provided me with a foundation upon which I have built in the proceeding 15 years.

As I leafed through this guide this week, one section in particular caught my eye.  Five basic leadership truisms provide a litmus test for our leadership competency, whether in the military service or any other organization or sector of society.  They include:

  • Leadership is the essence of our profession.  Certainly, leaders need an understanding of operational details (be that driving a 100-ton warship or ensuring the proper processing of insurance claims).  But regardless of the industry, it’s about leadership, not expertise, that is most critical.  Surround yourself with technical experts.  Then support their ability to leverage their expertise.  Lead…..don’t manage.  And don’t assume because you’re the leader, you are the “smartest one in the room.”
  • People are our most valuable asset.  An aircraft carrier is merely a gigantic piece of floating steel, if not for the skilled and dedicated people running it.  Quit treating your people as a cog in your organization’s money machine, and begin valuing them as the most important asset at your disposal.  Without them, you have nothing but profitless process and machinery.
  • Provide recognition to deserving people.  In keeping with the second truism, if you treat your people as critical to your success, you will naturally want to recognize those who provide the most value to your organization.  This isn’t a call for inequity in treatment, but instead for leaders to provide consistent and continuous recognition (in a way that speaks to the personalities and motivators for each individual follower).
  • Listen to your people.  Get in amongst your followers.  Know their interests, passions, joys and concerns on both personal and professional levels.  Adopt a genuine “we’re in this together” leadership approach.  If you listen to them, you’ll gain loyalty and genuine emotional and rational commitment (the bases of interpersonal trust), and when it comes to technical problem solving, you’ll have many more resources than your own expertise can muster.
  • Accept change and plan for uncertainty. Change is the only constant these days.  Leaders who understand and embrace changes (even when painful) will go far in any organization.  Those who resist change (or fail to champion changes to others) will not lead for long.  Continuous improvement and willingness to adapt to ever-changing environments and situations is critical for today’s leaders.

One thought on “Military Leadership Truisms for Everyday Leaders

  1. The books “Division Officer’s Guide,” and “Naval Leadership ~ Voices of Experience,” edited by Karel Montor, both have military foundations, but transferable translations to all forms of leadership. The topic of ‘military leadership,’ and the synergies that exist between military leadership and everyday leadership certainly deserve more elaboration. Thank you for delivering this message.

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