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8 Lessons Learned in Combat That You Can Apply Right Now

Dr. Duff Watkins

Love them or hate them, the US military knows how to solve big, tough problems.

For example, maintaining supplies lines across 500 miles of war torn Iraq is not easy.  But the US Army’s 812th Transportation Battalion does it.

Here are 8 lessons learned in combat that you can apply now to your business.

1. Be early

“Be early or you will definitely be late,” says Capt. Martinez, who shows up 10 minutes early for meetings.  More than once, she’s found that she needed the extra time to locate where the meeting is really being held instead of where it supposed to be held.

Point:  Assume nothing, allow for unforeseen circumstances, business—like battle—is full of surprises.

2. Communicate the right way

There are many ways to communicate: cell phone, written orders, e-mail, etc.  But when the commander of the US Army’s 812th, wants to make an important point, “it’s face to face,” he says. “You look somebody in the eye, and it gets done.”

Point:  There is simply no replacement for one to one, face to face, person to person communication.  Everything else is a substitute for that.

3. Answers, not excuses

“Inspire confidence in your superiors that you will overcome obstacles to get a solution,” says Maj. Foxx, a veteran of Desert Storm.

Case in point: Foxx’s boss told him to get a cell phone for a new commander.

Because of budget overruns, the Army had just declared that no more cell phones would be approved, and Foxx was a 90-minute drive across the desert from vendors in Kuwait City.

But he remembered a captain in another unit complaining about the nonessential calls he took and wishing he were free of his cell phone. Ten minutes later, the captain was free of his nuisance and the new commander had an Army cell phone.

Some people see obstacles and impasses, says Foxx, whereas others say ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’.  Both types usually prove themselves correct.

Point:  Good employees and good managers have one thing in common:  they don’t just cite problems they provide solutions.

4. Know your real boss

Col. Youmans supervises transportation logistics across Iraq and oversee thousands of soldiers.  He has plenty of generals over him but he stays focused on his real boss.  “The ultimate customer is the soldier on the ground,” says Youmans.  So he asks subordinates what they need from headquarters in order to solve their problems.

For a year, commanders had been begging for armour on the gun trucks that provide security for convoys.  After three soldiers were wounded in an attack on their unarmoured vehicle, Youmans returned to headquarters with photos of the Humvee revealing fist-sized holes shot into it.  Within a week the Army ordered armour for 200 vehicles.  Now, that’s customer service.

Point:  You may have many stakeholders in your business (or your present role within that business) but some matter more than others.  Just as you need to identify the real drivers of your business, you need to identify the stakeholders who represent those real drivers.  It’s not always obvious, so look closely.

5. Follow up, don’t assume

One mistake supervisors make, says Capt. Padgett, is stopping after they’ve assigned tasks.  It’s critical, he says, to follow up, see how the job got done, and evaluate the outcome.  It sharpens the subordinate and ensures better payoffs.

Point:  Never assume that your subordinates know exactly what is expected of them or that you have communicated it clearly.

6. Pass the ammunition

In war, as in business, information can be ammunition.

Ensure that subordinates know the orders of the day but also keep them informed about the smaller matters that might affect the mission, such as things you learn in meetings about other groups and their problems.  You never know how a piece of obscure knowledge might be useful ammunition farther down the road.  So, pass it and share it.

Point:  In order to connect the dots, you first need the dots.  Good management requires transforming various, incongruous pieces of data into useful information.  In war people’s lives are at stake.  In business people’s livelihoods are at stake.  So don’t stint on sharing useful information.

7. Take the binocular view

The daily grind gets you down.  Recognize when it does, then visualize the big picture.  “Keep your eye on the end of the tunnel,” says Sgt. Friedrichs.  Remind yourself of the overall objective and remember why you’re there.

Point:  It’s always a mistake to focus on you and you alone.  In business or battle there are lots of factors at work.  Never lose sight of the big picture, ie, why you’re doing what you’re doing.

8. Make allies

When your job is to keep vehicles rolling in spite of punishing desert dust, attacks by insurgents and missing spare parts, you need all the allies, friends and supporters you can get says Master Sgt Winley.  So make and keep the allies whose support you need in order to do your job effectively.

Point:  In battle or in business, nobody survives without help.

Quotations compiled by Mark Washburn


About Dr. Duff Watkins [www.execsearch.com.au]

international executive search consultant / author-- dispensing career advice about how the job market really works


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