by Tony Vidler
It is terribly simplified of course, but if you want to grow a great business then you need to grow some great people at some point in the process. If we want to learn how to grow great people then it seems a good idea to think about how the people who have been doing it successfully for about 4,500 years have done it – year in; year out; with people from all walks of life.
For thousands of years the military has been mastering the impossible. They’ve worked out how to take teenagers who are ordinarily unable to keep a bedroom tidy and turn them into focussed professionals able to perform incredibly well under the most stressful conditions imaginable. If the armed forces can take teenagers and turn them into leaders there must be something worth looking at in what they do.
It’s quite remarkable when you think about that transformation, and the way the military is able to consistently produce the same type of human performance results, almost regardless of what they are given to work with in the beginning. As an ex-military person now involved in helping people develop themselves and their businesses, I am increasingly drawn to some some of the simple concepts which underpin much of the incredible transformation that the services are able to create in individuals. There are 3 core attributes that the services try to instil, which are essentials for anyone wishing to “lead” the growth of a practice and build a fabulous personal brand as well.
The point here of course is that there are transferrable lessons for business in how to develope great staff.
Before discussing the three attributes it is worth clarifying a common misconception about how the military develop people, as the misconception often carries through to how business owners try to develop their own practice.
A prevailing view from civilians is that the military is often focussed on creating some sort of herd or mob mentality, where there is a lead sheep.
It could not be less true.
The military is not typically interested in creating robots who obey commands without thought. While there is always a clear chain of command and there is absolutely zero doubt about who is in charge of what at any given time, people are developed to be able to step up to command at the next level in the event of crisis. That is how “the unit”, or team, survives (if not thrives) when tested. There is immense investment in developing competencies and leadership qualities beyond the current role of any particular team member.
The ideal therefore is to have individuals who are team-oriented and willing to suppress personal agenda’s for the good of the group, but who are capable of stepping up as and when required. They are constantly being made “ready” for their next role. This investment in capability, together with rigorous ongoing training that simulates predictable crises and focusses upon developing competency and thoughtfulness when bad stuff occurs, is what leads to sustained success in an organisation. In other words, the secret to sustained success in the toughest of endeavours is creating leadership capability throughout the organisation and then relentlessly training in anticipation.
The Key Lessons for Business Leaders
Taking the lessons first taught by the Sumerians in 2,500 B.C. and constantly refined on a daily basis around the world in the 4,500 years since then, results in us being able to identify 3 key attributes in developing good leaders. They are:
As a result of these 3 attributes individuals become Respected.
For anyone trying to grow a business beyond something which is just a job for the owner, there is a constant and ongoing need for leadership within the business. Leadership in the sense of creating the capability for every person in the organisation to be able to perform at their optimal level as well as being ready to step up when required. This is how we obtain genuine leverage in the business. Getting our people to perform at their optimal level and take charge of their respective parts of the business is what free’s up the business owner to focus upon strategy and organisational development.
Some will argue that these are perhaps personal attributes that a person either has or does not have. A person is resilient or is not, for example.
The reality is every human being is resilient, but to varying degrees. What the military teaches us is that any individuals resilience can be strengthened and extended beyond what was initially thought possible through training and testing, and building self-confidence. So regardless of what any individuals “threshold” is at the beginning, it can be developed further. Individual “capability” can be enhanced, and often well beyond the level that the individual may have thought possible.
To develop great people we need to continually invest in training and growing that capability. Begin by creating responsibility, and then continually investing in improving that ability to take charge of roles, projects, teams and whatever the business has thrown at it.
When we have developed people who are responsible they also learn how to be responsive. Making good decisions under pressure and with limited time is a result of that training in capability and responsibility, and the self-confidence that is created as a result is part of the leadership evolution.
It is the self-confidence and continual testing that extends resilience – that ability to withstand the uncomfortable or unthinkable for “normal” people.
With responsible and responsive people throughout the business, who have developed resilience, we have a business that has inherent leadership at every level.
It is upon such skills that entire empires are built, and businesses must be able to learn something from that.