6 Leadership Lessons Shared By The Military And Entrepreneurial Communities

By Randy H. Nelson

The military and entrepreneurs, together?

At first glance, you might think this makes no sense as they could not be more opposite, at least on paper. One brings to mind scenes of crowded sales presentations and late nights in a dimly lit office, while the other conjures images of a base camp in a faraway land, or even combat.

Quite the contrary. For six-and-a-half years I served as a Navy Submarine Officer, and for the past 27+ years I have worked as a serial entrepreneur. I am here to confirm that, yes, the worlds of the military and entrepreneurs do blend indeed! For evidence, let’s take a look at six impactful leadership lessons I have learned from the two communities over the past three decades.

 

#1 – Leadership is a privilege

The growth of a company is limited by the growth of its leaders. The best leaders understand that leadership is not a right, but must be earned over and over again. They also understand that leadership is focused on others, not themselves. People will respect the title you have been given, or the stripes you wear on your military uniform, but you must continue to earn their respect as a leader for them to continue to follow you into the future.

#2 – Lack of self-awareness is the fatal flaw of the leader

Thank you to Richard Jolly of the London Business School for this fabulous quote.

Stephen Covey describes self-awareness as, “The ability to reflect on one’s own life, grow in self-knowledge, and to use that knowledge to improve oneself, and either overcome or compensate for your weaknesses.” Great leaders embrace the critical importance of raising their self-awareness.

#3 – Creativity and discipline is a powerful and successful combination of skills

Vision without execution is hallucination.

Not only do leaders need to provide the vision for climbing or defending their own Mt. Everest, they are accountable for making sure there is a successful operational plan to do so safely and successfully.

#4 – Listen with the intent to understand, not reply

Stephen Covey taught us this gem, but many military and entrepreneurial leaders (myself included) have struggled to put this advice into practice. Leaders fully understand it is their responsibility to develop other leaders so that they can reach their full potential. By listening intently, leaders position themselves to ask great questions, another critical skill that the very best leaders develop.

Next time you are desperate to reply because you know the right answers, stop yourself from doing so. Listen, understand, and then ask great questions. Your organization cannot grow having to rely on you to provide all the right answers.

#5 – Have the courage to become vulnerable and align with a peer group

“I don’t know what I don’t know.”

Leaders who are willing to become vulnerable and admit that they have a ton to learn from others will develop into highly impactful leaders. Taken a step further, leaders who surround themselves with other leaders who are going through similar experiences can learn exponentially. The military has a built-in structure for this. For entrepreneurial leaders, it is crucial to find a peer group made up of people who are going through similar experiences as you.

# 6 – Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers

The wisdom of President Harry S. Truman can be heard through this quote. I will take the idea a step further: the very best leaders commit to a career-long learning mentality.

Leadership starts at the top. Provide the very best example you can by encouraging learning at all levels of the organization, throughout the life of the organization.

Regardless of the occupation or community they reside in, great leaders will always learn from each other with sound leadership principles and lessons learned.


Randy H. Nelson is a serial entrepreneur, speaker, coach, former nuclear submarine officer, and author of The Second Decision with ForbesBooks. Learn more at randyhnelson.com.

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