Military Leadership Traits and Principles
Military leadership traits and principles do not come easy. The big difference between leadership in the corporate world versus the military is what’s at stake. A CEO risks profit or loss; a military leader risks life or death. The average military leader is between 23 and 32 years old, while the average age of a CEO is 38 to 62. What a drastic difference. At such a young age, military leaders are forced to make split-second decisions that risk their own lives and the lives of others.
The military spends millions of dollars each year training and educating its junior and senior leaders. Employers often hire former military leaders because of the value they bring to their company. Military leadership traits and principles are priceless in the corporate world. Military leaders have learned many lessons that are applicable in the business world. One of those lessons is to live in the present.
3 Lessons of Military Leadership Traits and Principles
Lesson One: Yesterday Means Nothing
The first thing I learned at Navy EOD School was that yesterday means nothing. Today is the only day that matters. If you think about yesterday or tomorrow, it will only make today more difficult. You must focus one hundred percent on today. Why not think about yesterday? Because yesterday had its own successes and failures, but today you’ll face new challenges and decisions you must make based on your training, not on what happened yesterday. The military instills training through repetition. That’s why it teaches its combat arms, special forces, and medics by having them repeat each movement again and again with precision and execution.
The reason the military trains its leaders to focus on today is because every detail is so important. The smallest detail can put lives at risk in combat. That’s why at Army Ranger school, everything down to the last detail must be followed. I was recycled in Ranger School because one of my teammates packed Skittles in his ruck, and Skittles were not on the packing list. So, when we dumped our rucks at the end of the mission, the instructor found them and sent us back to day-one of the Florida phase.
Attention to detail is also important to a CEO and the leaders who work under him. A business has much greater success if everyone follows instructions thoroughly, and if leaders are focused on the present and not the past. Former military leaders can bring this training to any business to help it thrive.
Lesson 2: Stop, Look, and Listen
Being a leader in the military is not just about yelling at people. I have talked about the first lesson you learn as a military leader—yesterday means nothing. The second lesson a military leader learns is stop, look, and listen.
Stop and pay attention to every detail.
Look around you. Make sure your whole team moves with fluidity and precision.
Listen to what is going on and what you’re ordered to do. If you miss part of your mission brief, you may put everyone’s life at risk.
The Four D’s
Stop, look, and listen is part of applying the 4 D’s: discipline, dedication, determination, and desire. You put these principles into practice by assessing the situation and observing with both your eyes and ears,
Discipline. As a leader, people look up to you and follow you. You must be worthy of their trust by being more disciplined than your subordinates and peers.
Dedication. Devote yourself to every task you’re given. Each assignment is important and deserves your dedication, even being a guard tower NCOI.
Determination. You must strive to overcome all adversities. Like the soldier’s creed says, “I will never quit, I will never accept defeat.”
Desire. You must have the desire to move faster and longer without excuses. Strive to make yourself, your peers, and subordinates better by reaching for greater success every day.
Part of stop, look, and listen is the idea that you must act now, and not procrastinate. The art of procrastination will cause you great failures and will overall affect your ability to complete even the smallest tasks. You must plan your work and work your plan.
One thing in life you can never get back is time. So, don’t waste it. Prioritize every assignment, task, and mission. If you are always ahead of schedule, you will gain far more respect from your peers, subordinates, and chain of command. History remembers what you did, not what you didn’t do.
You will never be able to lead others until you can truthfully lead yourself. This means making the right personal choice both personally and professionally. So, stop, look, and listen, apply the 4 D’s, and don’t procrastinate.
Lesson 3: Become Better, Not the Best
Military Leadership traits and principles come with time. No military leader learns everything there is to know. If you think you’re perfect, you’ll stop trying to do better. That’s why military leaders are taught to become better, not the best. They’re told to keep learning more about their job and have clear, reachable goals on how to do it better.
Often things don’t go the way you hope. That’s why military leaders should take the time to teach and train their soldiers how to execute a plan. As they go through the motions, the leaders will be able to identify the weaknesses in the plan and make corrections. Also, practicing plans creates muscle memory that helps when soldiers are called upon to execute a plan at a moment’s notice.
It’s not just about become better than you were previously. Military leaders have to be better than the military leaders on the opposing side. That means knowing the enemy better than they know themselves. This will change, depending on who you’re fighting against. So, military leaders must continue to learn as they lead their soldiers in battle.
In short, a good leader never stops learning.