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 Trait – Overcoming Adversity
Military leaders are renowned for their ability to operate in difficult situations while maintaining a calm and mission-focused demeanour. Early on in their training, military officers and members are taught how to set a positive example for their followers in the face of turmoil and danger. They develop an acute awareness of how expressions of panic, self-doubt, or lack of confidence might undermine their followers’ ability to get the job done when a challenge comes along.
Business executives get comparatively little training on how to effectively influence others. Their personal comportment can help or hinder the situation. The psychological importance of getting others to maintain focus in the face of complexity, challenges, interruptions and competing objectives is sadly underestimated. Sometimes executives are better skilled at explaining away the ‘misses’ and ‘one-time’ exogenous events, rather than motivating their people to overcome adversity.
In my own experience launching a new company as an entrepreneur, there were many gut-wrenching moments that needed to be calmly overcome. In our company’s third year of operation, we encountered a revenue downturn that placed a lot of pressure on the organization and its cash flow. By breaking the problem down into about 300 actionable tasks and steps to help get revenues back up, I was able to recover quickly without losing key staff or the organization’s morale. Overreaction or panic in this circumstance might have caused more long-term organizational problems than the downturn itself.
How much more could be achieved in the private sector today if corporate executives could calmly and eloquently motivate their people with the same ‘cool under fire’ conduct that military leaders are renowned for? In my experience, a calm mindset will help any executive to deliver their projects or business objectives, no matter how large, challenging or complex.
Adrian Travis is a former air force Captain, most recently with 400 Tactical Helicopter Squadron at CFB Borden. He is a graduate of the Royal Military College, the London School of Economics, and leads Trindent Consulting, a boutique operations management consultancy based in Toronto. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Often in a hiring situation, the face to face interview plays a very large part. Yet from the candidate’s perspective, the interview is essentially a big acting job – the candidate has 45 minutes to an hour to impress the future boss. Inevitably what comes out are the candidate’s strengths and successes. However, the legacy of the people you hire are more often determined by their weaknesses and failures. It is here that you need to focus your attention during the interview process.
For this reason, every hiring interview should contain questions like: “Tell me about a time when you encountered serious adversity. What were you trying to accomplish? What happened? What did you do? What did you learn from the experience?”