Creator. Inventor. Founder. Whatever you call yourself, you want to go into the business world with an edge. Yet it can be tough to know how to make a bold yet smart splash when you’re just starting. Ironically, you can find inspiration in many places, including the military.
Since the beginning of time, the strongest, most successful militaries have shared many traits. Leveraging some of those characteristics as the owner of a startup or franchise can give you a serious advantage. Plus, you may be able to carry some of what you learn into your personal life to make private gains.
Below are the top lessons from the military you might want to consider.
1. Clear communication is practiced and valued.
Perhaps you’ve heard veterans speak in “military lingo,” right down to using the military alphabet. Rather than saying their ABCs, they say their “Alpha Bravo Charlies.”
The reason behind the military alphabet isn’t to confuse civilians or speak in codes. It’s to make sure that important messages are understood. Many letters sound similar. Using the military alphabet removes the risk of misinterpretation.
You might want to learn and use the military alphabet, especially if your team deals with a lot of acronyms. At the same time, look for other ways to reduce the risk of miscommunication. For instance, you might want to put standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place for complex processes. That way, employees can follow the SOPs and avoid potentially costly misunderstandings.
2. Problem-solving to meet changing situations is expected.
The pandemic hit the military as suddenly as it did the corporate world. However, the military had the advantage of being prepared to shift with changing landscapes. Consider the British Army’s Covid response. The Army leaned heavily into agile working so the Army wouldn’t lose momentum.
The longer you’re in business, the more you’ll realize that you usually can’t control what happens around you. Nevertheless, you can control your response to it. You just have to acknowledge that changes have happened so you can move in a different direction.
Remember that adaptability in the boardroom is just as essential as adaptability on the battlefield. Covering your eyes to reality only sets you back.
3. Decisions must sometimes be made without all the information.
If you’re fiercely data-driven, you probably pour over spreadsheets. You research everything before making a move. After all, you want to make the right choice.
What if there isn’t a right choice, though? Military leaders find out fast that they rarely have all the information they’d like. As a result, they have to fill in the gaps using past experience, others’ recommendations, and maybe a bit of intuition.
It can be hard to accept that the latest technology might not afford you all the answers. It’s true, though. Sometimes, you have to do what seems logical in the moment just to keep moving forward.
4. Leaders lead—unflinchingly.
More than eight out of 10 employees say they’d resign if they were saddled with a lousy boss. Though military members don’t have the ability to leave bad officers, your employees can say goodbye anytime.
This is why you have to exhibit the qualities of a leader. Make those tough phone calls to angry clients. Show vulnerability and empathy when appropriate without an ounce of remorse. Never expect your workers to do something you wouldn’t do, including taking out the garbage.
When you’re a genuine leader, you don’t need to wear a badge with your title. Your employees will draw strength from your fortitude. They’ll also be more apt to do exceptional work to match what they see in you.
5. Two Up/Two Down keeps everyone in the know.
In the military, every person needs to have a clear understanding of what’s going on at all times. The simplest way to achieve this widespread knowledge is through a Two Up/Two Down model.
Here’s how this works: Each person knows what’s going on with the boss two steps above and the direct reports two steps beneath. These insights keep the individual’s goals focused in a positive, supportive direction either way.
Encourage your employees to practice this by uncovering the responsibilities and “missions” of those “two up” and “two down.” This may be more difficult if your organization has more of a lateral structure. In that case, you may want to implement the Two Up/Two Down structure situationally or by each project.
6. Leaders learn the personalities and motivations of their team members.
The bigger your company gets, the harder it can be to show the personal touch to your employees. But if your organization is still on the small side, you owe it to your workers to understand them as whole, complex people.
Many military leaders take the time to find out about their staff. This serves two purposes. The first is building camaraderie and trust. The second is uncovering motivators. Knowing what will motivate one person versus another comes in handy, whether during war or peace times.
Set aside time to check in with your workers. The effect of having a five-minute conversation every week or two with them can forge tighter team bonds. You’ll appreciate those bonds on the more challenging days.
Just because you’re new to entrepreneurship doesn’t mean you can’t excel right out of the gate. Emulating some of the wisest military practices could become the secret to early and sustained success.