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War, What is it Good For? — 8 Combat Lessons For Your Career

 war8 Battle Tested Lessons To Boost Your Career

War, what is it good for?  Absolutely nothing!—sang Edwin Starr, Motown legend (view here:  War)


Well, not exactly, Ed.

Love them or hate them, the military knows how to solve big, tough problems, plus they’re experts in teamwork.


So whether you’re in the corporate trenches or the shifting sands of Iraq, here are 8 combat proven lessons to boost your career, straight from US Army’s 812th Transportation Battalion, tasked with maintaining supply lines across 500 miles of war-torn Iraq.

business combat


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. Battle and business have unpredictable schedules.  Arriving late for either one is a sure way to lose the day.


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


2. Communicate the right way

The right way is the way that works.  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:  Stop hiding behind email, voicemail, protocol and processes.  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

Want promotion?  “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 would not approve more cell phones, 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 non-essential calls he took and wishing he were free of his cell phone.  Ten minutes later, that captain was free of his ringing nuisance and the new commander had an Army cell phone.


Obstacles and impasses exist in any job but, says Foxx, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’.  Your constraints are your openings to display your problem-solving abilities.  That’s how you impress your superiors and earn promotions.


Point:  Find a way.  Create a solution.  Get it done.  Military officers and managers have this in common:  they don’t just cite problems they provide solutions.


4. Know your real boss

Col. Youmans supervised transportation logistics across Iraq and oversaw thousands of soldiers.  He had many generals above him but he focused on his real boss.  “The ultimate customer is the soldier on the ground,” says Youmans.  So he asked subordinates what the soldiers needed from headquarters in order to solve their problems.


For a year, commanders had begged for armour on the gun trucks that provided security for convoys.  After three soldiers were wounded in an attack on their unarmoured vehicle, Youmans took back to headquarters photos of the fist-sized holes shot into the Humvee.  Within a week the Army ordered armour for 200 vehicles.


Not only did he communicate the right way (it’s hard to argue with graphic photos of bullet holes), he devised a solution tailored for his real boss, the soldier in the field.  Now, that’s customer service and good management.


Point:  You have many stakeholders in your career but some matter more than others, and at different times.  The key is to identify the different needs of each and meet them as best you can.


There are multiple drivers in any business so you need to identify the stakeholders representing those drivers.  It’s not always obvious, so look closely.  (Hint:  it’s not always the Generals.)


5. Follow up, don’t assume

One mistake supervisors make, says Capt. Padgett, is stopping after they’ve been 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.


many hands, light work
Many hands make light work, in business or battle.

6. Pass the ammunition

The military runs on teamwork.  Nobody does it better.  They drill into every soldier, officer, and leader that you cannot accomplish big tasks by yourself.


In war, as in business, information is 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.


The military discourages the building of ‘information silos’ for the same reason business should:  it affects your survival.


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, including yours.  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.  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.


What you do matters to somebody, somewhere.  Figure out what it is and what value it has.


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 you can get says Master Sgt Winley.


So make and keep the allies whose support you need in order to do your job effectively.  Establish alliances, make friends, build rapport and gain support with anybody and everybody.  They may be—or become—a valuable resource.   Again, it’s teamwork.  You won’t succeed in isolation because you can’t succeed in isolation.


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

Quotations reported 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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