What the Military Can Teach Us About Leadership (It’s Not What You Think)

Posted on by Wendy Beswick

High-pressure situations, thinking fast on your feet, being able to take risks—sound familiar? It’s no wonder that the same traits that make a good military leader also translate into the business world. While the numbers are dwindling, many CEOs of major companies have spent time in the armed forces, and some research even points to a correlation between military experience and high-level leadership performance.

The USO’s mission is to “Be a force behind the forces.” That says it all and tells people exactly what they do.

But it’s not always the obvious parts of military life that transpire into being a good leader. Last week, I was fortunate to spend time on military bases in Germany, where my organization has an overseas presence. On my final day, I also visited with the USA and the Fisher House at Landstuhl. Both organizations are amazing—not only in their mission but in the amount of support they provide to military personnel and their families.

As my week progressed, I noticed how everyone on base was working towards the same purpose and goal. What impressed me the most is how I was inspired by everyone I met. It made me think: How do we as leaders inspire our teams? And how do companies get everyone on the same page when it comes to purpose? Here are a few takeaways that we can all implement as leaders in our own organizations.

Get Organized
If you are not organized, you cannot perform at your peak. At its core, the military is highly organized. It is not possible to deploy the bases, the people and the support both the Army and Air Force provide without a high level of organization. The more systems and structure you have in place, the better you will perform, and both you and your team will have even more to contribute.

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Provide Value
If you are not providing value, then you aren’t doing your job. Think about your company’s purpose and mission. The USO’s mission, for example, is to “Be a force behind the forces.” That says it all and tells you exactly what they do. Providing value means you and your team are focused on delivering your mission every day. And if you don’t have a mission, create one.

No matter how busy we are, each of us has time to volunteer. Find out which organizations in your community need help and give it. Without volunteers, organizations such as the Fisher House—which provides a “home away from home” for family members of wounded soldiers overseas—would not be able to exist. I was amazed by the stories I heard about military spouses giving both their time and goods to help wounded soldiers and their families.

Be Helpful
Being helpful is such an easy thing to do, but we all fail at this from time to time. Helping others is the most human act we can all do daily. Whether it is someone on the street, a neighbor, a coworker or peer, helping someone else pays in dividends.

Be Humble
We can all implement this behavior. Titles and rank do not matter. I observed this trait repeatedly when I met people on base. Whether someone was affiliated with supporting military organizations or working directly for the military, everyone was humble. As a leader, it is the most important trait you can have.

Everyone Is a Leader
If you’re in a leadership position yourself, it is important to empower your staff and drive home the fact that everyone is a leader. Pushing people to levels that may make them uncomfortable helps to shape and mold them. The best leaders do this and, in turn, ultimately develop leaders for the future.

I hope these learnings will help you as a leader and, more importantly, help you develop your team. Think about how you work with your team today. How can you inspire others? How can you drive culture and develop your team to be their best?

Wendy Beswick is vice president of marketing at Service Credit Union.


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