Lessons Learnt From The Army: How to Fight to Win

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Leading NZ soldiers is an incredible challenge, responsibility and privilege.

Much of my working life has been spent as an Army Officer, initially as a regular and later in the Reserves. I have found that the skills I learned and applied leading soldiers are very relevant and transferable for leading teams and driving business execution; especially in this increasingly dynamic and ever changing marketplace.

As you can imagine, the challenge of leading men and women who are working in dangerous roles in challenging environments requires a high level of trust, empathy and teamwork.

The Army places great emphasis on leadership skills and invests heavily in leadership training and development at all levels. Training courses to enhance leadership skills continue right through to those at the very highest ranks of the Army.

Here are six key things that the Army teaches their leaders in order to “fight to win”:

1. Remain calm under fire.

That’s not to say that fear is not present, in fact it is. However, to “keep calm and carry on” regardless of the situation is something you can learn. It is the golden rule for keeping your head and working through a logical process in order to respond to a hostile or changing situation. Being calm and thinking clearly are essential requirements to evaluate what is happening and to make effective decisions.

2. Any plan is better than no plan.

Without a plan you cannot inspire others to follow you. Having a plan is the starting point for successful execution. Even if the plan is not the right one, making a decision and creating a plan will save lives and generate positive activity. A good team will back itself to quickly adjust a plan so that it is effective.

3. No plan survives the start line.

The Army recognizes that in every situation there is another party that can influence the situation. Not just the enemy, but terrain, equipment, weather, civilian populations, and even animals can influence a plan. All the various scenarios that might happen should be considered and planned for so that the plan can be quickly adjusted if required. The fact a team has planned and engaged together allows it to quickly iterate the plan as needed.

4. Maintain momentum.

In any situation there needs to be swift action, and momentum needs to be maintained to ensure successful execution. Slowing or stopping any operation means it is difficult to get going again. It reminds me of the saying “When going through hell….keep going!”

5. Teamwork is a defining factor.

A group working together and supporting each other to achieve the defined goal will greatly lift the chance of success. Training together, working together, getting to know one another, and building trust all help to build teamwork. Good teams keep going when the going gets tough, and they overcome blockages in order to win.

6. Time is seldom wasted in planning or recon.

Taking the time as a leadership team to plan ahead for future operations, alternative scenarios, routes to be taken, areas of interest, and likely courses of action is seldom wasted. Planning and reconnaissance actually saves time, saves resources, and in many cases, people’s lives.

There are many situations in business where these skills can be applied. Strategic thinking, strategic planning, working together to build teamwork and trust, as well as incorporating a planning cadence that allows a business to quickly alter a plan and then change direction as required – are things a smart business leader does.

Influencing and inspiring people gets stuff done. That’s called “business execution” and by applying these six lessons from the Army you too can inspire your team to “fight to win.”

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