The military is known for producing good leaders. This series features leadership wisdom from former Canadian military leaders now in private enterprise. In each article, a military Leadership Trait will be described by a former military leader, and then applied to business. In the Commentary section, we will discuss how to develop the trait, or how to identify that trait in an interview.
Leadership Traits – Analytical (strategic) Thinking, Execution, and Communication
“I retired from full time military service five years ago and I still notice almost every day how my 23 years as a leader in the army prepared me for business and a career in the private sector. Even after five years people still ask me the same question, and then quickly follow-up with the same general comment. The question – “Was it difficult to adjust to the private sector after serving in the military?” The comment – “I am sure the discipline and structure learned in the military helped.”
My answer to the question is always, “No, adjustment was not difficult at all and in fact was quite easy.” The military is a mission focused, results oriented, people focused organisation and good businesses are the same. Most Canadians do not understand the modern Canadian Forces. It is an institution that is driven by transformational leadership (not transactional “do this because it is an order” management) and leadership development began the day I joined. The Canadian military is also a very progressive, open minded and thinking organisation that strives to build inclusive and cohesive teams. The basic culture and approach in the military is the same as any good private enterprise. Therefore, adjustment to “civilian work” was very easy. Instead of leading soldiers I now lead a different demographic; but, people are people and leadership is leadership – no huge difference between military and civilian.
My response to the comment regarding discipline and structure is also always the same. Certainly those traits normally associated with military service, discipline, leadership, ability to work long hours etc., have been of value to me in business. However, I have found that it is much more than that. The ability to conduct deep analysis, get to the root of issues, develop and articulate plans, and then coordinate and synchronise daily execution, all things learned in the military, have served me well. The military planning process is 100% applicable to business. The military education I received that was focused on clear communication and pervasive argument taught me how to sell. The operational experience I gained on overseas missions taught me how to execute in complex and rapidly changing environments.
In the end, it is more than the basics of leadership and discipline that I have found useful. It is the higher level thinking and ability to “get things done” (strategic plan to tactical execution), as well as the ability to clearly articulate solutions (read “ability to sell”), that I have found most beneficial and transferable.”
Cliff Trollope, CD, CBCP, CRM, CAS – Cliff is a partner in the Enterprise Risk Services practice of MNP, Canada’s seventh largest accounting, consulting and tax firm. He is the firm’s national practice leader for business resilience and specialises in business continuity, emergency/crisis management, and physical security. A graduate of the Royal Military College, Cliff holds a BA in history and a Masters in Defence Studies. For over 20 years he was an infantry officer with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and retired at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 2007. He completed three overseas deployments in Bosnia and Cyprus. Following retirement for full time service Cliff joined the reserves and was the Commanding Officer of The Royal Regiment of Canada from 2008 to 2011.
Cliff’s article highlighted three elements of military leadership that play well in civilian management – analytical (strategic) thinking, execution, and communication. As Covey, Huling and McChesney clearly state in “The 4 Disciplines of Execution”, strategic initiatives are easy to conceive, but difficult to execute, and it’s all about communication.
When interviewing future leaders for your organization, you will find that most competent business executives will be able to communicate well, and discuss strategy comfortably. Focus your questions on execution – how they actually implemented the strategies, and created the organizational behaviour changes that resulted in the achievements they claim in their resumes. Execution is key, and is getting more important as corporations are being forced to adapt rapidly to the changing macro-environmental factors in the marketplace. As Darwin said, “it is not the strongest or the smartest who survive, but those most adaptable to change”.