Is there really a difference in military leadership and civilian or business leadership? The answer is defiantly yes and no. I know you must be thinking, “thanks for clearing that issue up.” This issue can be complicated. Foremost, it’s complicated by a general misunderstand about what basic military leadership is about in the minds of those who have never served.
The 3 Myths of Military Leadership
Myth #1: Military leadership is about giving orders and having people blindly following those orders.
This myth is based on the perception that all a commander must do is issue an order and soldiers follow without question or knowledge. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Respect for command authority is earned not given. Yes, there is a certain level of authority that comes with an individual’s rank. This is true in civilian life as well. We respect a police officer simply because they ware a badge. We respect the CEO or a School Superintendent simply because of their title. However, true authority is earned.
To assure gained respect as an officer you never ask others to do what you have not already done, trained to do, or are willing to do or be part of yourself.
As an officer you must be mission oriented, that is you must focus on accomplishing the assigned task. However, in order to accomplish the assigned task you must make sure your team is trained, equipped, rested and feed. It’s known as, “mission first, people always.” You must make sure your team knows you care about them as much as you care about the job.
Well respected military leaders also ask for, listen to, and evaluate what their subordinates have to say prior to making a decision. Once they have done so, they make a command choice and proceed with accomplishing the mission. They also take responsibility for the choices they make, and share the rewards.
Most importantly, you reserve issuing orders. Orders are issued sparingly based on your authority and need. When you issue an order your expect it to be followed. If you’re always telling others what to do you’re seldom leading them. I can tell you, I only issued a handful of orders as an officer.
Myth #2: Military leadership is about fear and intimidation.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This myth is perpetuated by misunderstanding the purpose of basic training and pop culture movies. Yes, there is a lot of yelling that goes on in basic training. Yes, it is physically challenging. Yes, there is a element of fear injected into military training.
However, you must understand that these scenarios are carefully constructed, maintained and implemented in order to train soldiers to deal with complicated, ever changing, and often dangerous situations.
Fear is a reality in the military, as it is in life. You must train and equip yourself to deal with fear and overcome it. We all must learn to perform under pressure, it’s essential to higher level leadership and success in life.
Myth #3: Soldiers Are Robots
This is so far from reality. The military surpasses all organizations in its ability to train individuals to operate independently.
From day one of training soldiers are taught to think on their feet, improvise, adapt and overcome. It’s the only organization that intently “trains up.” That is, every soldier is actively trained to take over the persons job above them.
Where does that leave us? The essential foundation of military leadership is the same as in the civilian world. The method of deliver and the level of autonomy are different, as well as the key element known as discipline.
Ken McCullough says
You are correct about people not understanding military leadership. They mostly think its Jack Nicholson screaming about handling the truth. I taught NCOs at the academy for several years and the funny thing is that you can’t really teach leadership. True leaders just are.
Its hard to describe what a true leader looks like, you just know them when you encounter them. Someone you want to work with or for.