The military is the ultimate bureaucracy. It is the epitome of a broad, top-down organizational hierarchy with thousands of personnel across multiple locations and divisions as well as lots of room and experience between the generals and privates. Whether your workforce is the size of an army or is lean and flat, you can still benefit from emulating the best leadership principles of the US Armed Forces.
From the enlisted grunts to the officers trained at the academies, the military has a tremendous track record of developing leaders who are capable of achieving their goals and leading others to success. They assess their candidates thoroughly before promoting them and continue to invest in the development of high potentials as they rise up the ranks.
Here are 11 leadership principles of the US Armed Forces that can help you to become a more effective manager and a better leader:
1. Know yourself and seek self-improvement. By properly evaluating your own weaknesses and strengths while endeavoring to improve those areas daily, you will continually improve your abilities and performance. This is an important trait to pass on to your employees for their own benefit and your unit’s.
2. Be technically and tactically proficient. Keep current with the latest technical developments in your field of expertise and know how to deploy your resources for the maximum return on investment. This is another great development principle for your employees.
3. Develop a sense of responsibility among your subordinates. Drive accountability down to the base level among your staff. Make sure they know that you will hold them accountable for their actions and assignments.
4. Make sound and timely decisions. Ensure that your decisions are well thought out and that you’ve taken into account all relevant information. Don't act rashly or out of anger, desperation, or any other emotional state.
5. Set an example. Lead from the front – make sure that your staff sees you as a role model. Be visible in your daily activities and hold yourself to a higher standard – this will motivate subordinates to improve themselves.
6. Know your people and look out for their welfare. Only by demonstrating that you are interested in and concerned for your employees’ welfare will you win their loyalty. A good leader is a compassionate listener and understands what motivates his team. Do you convey an attitude of “I’m in it with you” or “I’m looking out for myself and you are all on your own”?
7. Keep your people informed. Information is the life's blood of any organization and only good if it is shared across the widest possible spectrum. Be sure to communicate promptly – good information received too late can be the same as bad or no information at all. Share your ideas and knowledge with your staff – this will make them feel included and valuable.
8. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions. Be prepared for your next assignment and take charge of all areas of responsibility. If a mistake is made, stand up and take the heat. By doing so, you will demonstrate a key principle of leadership: we are all fallible and make mistakes, but it is how we respond to our mistakes that separates the professionals from the pretenders.
9. Ensure assigned tasks are understood, supervised, and accomplished. Trust your employees to do their jobs, but verify that assignments have been completed to your standards. While you shouldn’t hover and micromanage tasks, you also should not wait until a deadline to discover that it was done poorly or improperly. The military excels at giving briefings and status reports. When your staff is able to provide you with positive, comprehensive updates, they’ll feel encouraged and you’ll know that the project is on track. If it’s not, then you can offer advice and guidance on how to get back on track.
10. Train your people as a team. Have your staff work together as a team and cross train on each other’s responsibilities. This allows them to utilize each other's strengths and to feed off of the team synergy. Teamwork develops a sense of shared responsibility and commitment to the objective. You’ll also have backup in the event of a team member’s prolonged absence.
11. Employ your team in accordance with its capabilities. Know your limitations and those of your people and department. Don't take on more than you should. By knowing your limitations, you'll know when to call in the reinforcements or when to say “no.”
There are plenty of bad examples and stereotypes of hazing and negative leadership attributes from the military. But there’s something to be learned from them, too: character. Consider the type of boss you are – would your troops look for an opportunity to “frag” you, or would they loyally follow you into battle no matter the circumstances?
Dario Priolo contributed to this article.
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