Lyndon B. Johnson

Leading a company the military way

patton on leadershipI was recently asked if a military model of leadership was adequate to run a company.  When I responded seeking the definition of military leadership, I understood why the question was being asked.

There is a misperception of what military leadership really is: marching and drills, marching and drills…This initial response is usually taken from a movie, or television show that focused on basic training (boot camp) where the very beginning of military leadership is formed. Even children’s stories are filled with these ideas: Colonel Hathi’s March (The Elephant Song) from The Jungle Book says it this way: “The aim of our patrol,  Is a question rather droll,  For to march and drill, Over field and hill,  Is a military goal!” 

But the military wouldn’t be successful if this was the full extent of its leadership. The military has eleven principles of leadership.  I have summarized them below with a reference to how each of these is viewed in non-military professions.  You will see from these principles that the answer that a military model of leadership is not just adequate to run a company it is essential.


1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement – Learning is a lifelong task that you should continue no matter what you are doing. 

“Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise.  View life as a continuous learning experience.” – Denis Waitley

2. Be tactically and technically proficient – In whatever business or profession you are in, aim to be the best.

“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep on doing so until the end.” Abraham Lincoln

3. Know your soldiers and look out for their welfare – Take time to get to know them and look out for their health and well being. They will notice you genuinely care about them and probably perform better.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – John Maxwell

4. Keep your soldiers informed – Tell those you follow you what your plans are, accept their insight and suggestions, make them a part of the planning.

“We must open the doors of opportunity.  But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors.” – Lyndon B. Johnson

5. Set the example – In everything you do you must do it well and set a good example.

“What you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

6. Ensure the task is understood, supervised and accomplished – Make sure you give clear instructions, ask for feedback on what your followers think you said.

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” – Tony Robbins

7. Train your soldiers as a team – Create community and teamwork.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

8. Make sound and timely decisions – Look at the options and then make the best choice.

“If a decision-making process is flawed and dysfunctional, decisions will go awry.” – Carly Fiorina

9. Develop a sense of responsibility in your subordinates – Delegate certain jobs and tasks, training up new leaders.

“I am convinced that nothing we do is more important that hiring and developing people.  At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies.” – Larry Bossidy

10. Employ your unit in accordance with its capabilities – Align strengths with responsibilities.

“The key to any game is to use your strengths” – Paul Westphal

11. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions –Taking responsibility for things is a key trait of a leader

Success on any major scale require you to accept responsibility…In the final analysis, the one quality that all successful people have is the ability to take on responsibility.”Michael Korda

How do you lead colleagues with more experience?

Listen-to-your-elders-adviceFirst, people with experience don’t always knows what is right. But if they are successful now, they have likely experienced being wrong – and learned from it.

Second, everyone has more experience on their job than you – after all they do it every day. 

Third, your experience in life is different than your colleagues.  Your background and education will be different than others.  Together, you can make your combined experience work to be mutually beneficial.

Finally, as a leader your job is not to do your colleagues job, or tell them how do to their job.  The leader’s job is to set the stage so that people of all experience levels can excel at their job.

Here are four areas for every leader to focus on, regardless of their level of experience:

Engage in relationship building with your colleagues.  All work takes place with people.  Even the most automated business has people running the automated processes.  The foundation of all leadership is the relationship between the leader and the team.

“If you believe business is built on relationships, make building them your business.” – Scott Stratten

Enlighten yourself and your colleagues on the strengths of each individual.  You have strengths and each person on your team has strengths.  It is through the joining of these strengths that success comes.

“The strength of the team is each individual member.  The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson

Equip your colleagues with the tools and support they need to perform their role to the fullest.  Invest your time in providing opportunities for them to succeed. Make sure they have the best training, technology, and time management (priorities) you can provide.

“We must open the doors of opportunity. But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors.” – Lyndon B. Johnson

 Empower your colleagues to succeed.  When you have engaged, enlightened and equipped your team, the best thing you can do is get out of the way. 

 Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” – John Maxwell


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