Three Business Lessons From Military Officer Training

Blog Post Transformational Leadership

Many of you know that there are a lot of parallels between military and business when it comes to leadership and strategy. The Art of War, written by Sun Tzu and dating back to 5 century BC, has been influential in the tactics and thinking of leaders such as former U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell as well as New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Recently, one of my best friends from college finished her five-week military officer training; she shared with me some lessons she took away in leadership. In my opinion, they are very applicable to business leaders as well.

Lesson 1: Do the heavy lifting.

During the 5 weeks, every day she had to get up at 4:30am. On Sundays, she had the “luxury” of sleeping in until 5am. Knowing her as a night owl, I could imagine how tough it was for her to get up that early. This training fortified the mental toughness and resilience that was within her. I could tell that she is now more confident in herself after accomplishing the not-so-simple task of waking up that early every day, for five weeks.

Effective leaders also push themselves- as a result of their commitment to the organization, its people, and its mission. They are willing to go the extra mile to ensure that all grounds are covered. Try on that “any result is a function of actions taken.” When the right actions are taken, more often than not, desired results naturally come to fruition. This would translate into: doing what you know to do, doing it the best way you know how and doing it on time.

In a recent training, I was confronted with how much I have gone through my life being a “dabbler,” meaning being not deeply engaged or concerned with what I’m working on, many times not giving it my one hundred percent. Subconsciously, I’m doing everything to “keep the wolf away from the door for another day,” instead of truly living to my best potential. What are some of the areas in your life that you have been dabbling around? Where have you avoided doing the heavy lifting? Answering this question authentically will give you openings for new action and results.

Lesson 2: Embrace challenges that seems impossible today.

One of the first tasks that my friend was asked to perform during the officer training was something like “do 200 squats in 5 minutes.” Her first reaction, and mine when I heard it, was “How is that physically possible?” However, once she started doing the challenge, she buckled down and told herself “No matter how it turns out, I’m going to give it a try.” Then, lo and behold, she actually was able to complete it! She said on the phone, “This made me reflect and think how much more I can push myself in the future.” Since she’s said it, I immediately noticed areas in my own performance in business to apply this insight.

Lesson 3: In teamwork, be clear, delegate, adapt.

Last but not least, one of the most important lessons that my friend received was about teamwork. She emphasized the importance of being clear, delegating when appropriate, and adapting to new circumstances. During the training, groups were given tasks to resolve under limited time, with people they barely met a few days ago. The pressure of completing what is in front of us with a new group of people can be daunting already, not to mention the added time pressure. In business, we often face a similar scenario.

Clear communication ensures that everyone is working on solving the same problem. Often times, projects can be discussed for hours on end, only for people to learn that they had different definitions of certain key words. Spending more time upfront for clarification actually contributes to increased efficiency and speed to results.

Once everyone is on the same page, leaders who delegate well are able to utilize the strengths of others to accomplish the task in record time. Then, as the team learns and grows together, the ones that are more adaptive to new circumstances will thrive. As Charles Darwin famously says “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

What is one lesson from above that applies to your work?

Start by writing down specific actions or structures you can take on to deploy your takeaways.

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