In today’s turbulent business environments, every leader should be concerned about how well his or her organization executes and how well it adapts to change. Execution has been on the list of top concerns of CEOs for years now. But the turbulent business environments of the past few years underscore the necessity for rapid adaptability and execution to survive and prosper in the new economy.
What’s the secret to executing in turbulent business environments and propelling an organization to the next level? There are many attributes that contribute to an organization’s success. But there is an often forgotten element that has gained increasing attention in the past few years. It may come as a surprise, but a powerful means to achieving success is to infuse your organization with military leadership experience. There is a growing body of evidence that demonstrates just how important it is to have leaders with experiences that only military officers have.
Bringing Military Leadership Experience to the Private Sector.
In 2005, Korn Ferry International, in cooperation with the Economist Intelligence Unit, published an astonishing report that demonstrated the extraordinary value of military leadership experience in the private sector. The report Military Experience and CEOs: Is There a Link? unequivocally demonstrates that there is indeed a link between business success and military leadership experience. By “military leadership experience” we mean, specifically, officers. The report showed that S&P 500 CEOs, as a demographic group, are nearly three times more likely to have served as an officer in one of the four U.S. military services than the general population of U.S. adult males. It also showed that companies led by these former military leaders outperformed, on average, other S&P 500 firms. These CEOs also lasted longer in their positions by about 2.7 years on average. So, not only did these leaders perform better, they were more committed to their companies over the long haul.
Executing and Winning in Turbulent Business Environments.
In 2009, the value of military leadership experience in turbulent business environments was further punctuated by London Business School professor Donald Sull in his book The Upside of Turbulence: Seizing Opportunity in an Uncertain World. Sull, who adapts armed forces tactical theory to business management practices, asserts that turbulence will likely continue to be a quality that the global economy will experience for a long time. For Sull, it is rapid adaptation and execution toward small gains that lead to success, as in current U.S. Marine Corps tactical doctrine and in the tactical improvements for fighter pilots that emerged after the Korean War. The ability to debrief is highlighted as a core competency in adaptive organizations, just like in the U.S. armed forces. But it is the ability to translate strategy into action, supported by the ability to debrief and learn from doing, that is the secret to executing and winning in turbulent business environments.
The ability to make decisions and act when faced with new challenges and limited information is the skill possessed by those with military leadership experience. Whether these leaders fly aircraft, navigate combat ships or lead combat troops in Afghanistan or Iraq, their daily lives depend upon solving problems and executing their decisions under constantly changing, turbulent business environments. These are also the skills necessary for business leaders.
Prepare for Turbulent Business Environments with Skilled Military Leaders.
For anyone that is still skeptical about the value of military leadership experience, Dan Senor and Saul Singer make an even more compelling argument for its value in their 2009 release Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. Although the authors attribute Israel’s phenomenal success to several factors, including a mission objective orientation and non-attributive debriefing, one of the most significant is that Israeli companies actively recruit individuals with military leadership experience. The authors scold American business leaders for their illiteracy regarding soldier’s resumes and their failure to recognize the value of military leadership experience in their companies. “Given all this battlefield entrepreneurial experience,” write the authors, “the vets coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan wars are better prepared than ever for the business world, whether building start-ups or helping lead larger companies through the current turbulent period.”
Every business in America can benefit from the experience gained from those serving as officers in the U.S. armed forces. In light of the current economic turbulence and the proven capacities of military officers to execute and excel in turbulent business environments, companies would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to draw upon their talents. These officers possess abilities to plan and set goals, communicate and motivate others that no business school can teach. They have practiced and honed their decision-making skills in life and death situations. In all, they provide a rich resource that is not inexhaustible. Companies that stake a claim on this rare commodity and actively recruit it will certainly position themselves to execute in the turbulent future ahead.