4 lessons learned from military service

About 10 years ago, I was interviewing for a job that included leadership responsibilities. After the first round of interviews, I received an e-mail from the recruiter explaining to me that he couldn’t find me a good candidate.

Why? Because I had no leadership experience.

I responded to the email pointing out that I had over a decade of experience leading teams ranging from two to 20 people as a non-commissioned officer (NCO) in the army. It was on my CV and we discussed it during the phone conversation.

The recruiter replied that “military” leadership did not count because it was not “commercial” leadership.

Many people think military leadership is like R. Lee Ermey’s role as a drill instructor in the movie “Full Metal Jacket.” While some military leaders emulate this kind of behavior, I have found that many of the leadership principles I learned during my time in the military apply directly to leading people.

Lesson 1: Leadership and management are two different things

In the United States, in particular, leaders are usually managers and above. But management and leadership are two different things.

You manage things, like projects and budgets.

You lead people.

The skills needed to be a good manager are different from those needed to be a good leader. People need more than just commands. They have needs that transcend being a cog in a machine. They need a sense of belonging and destiny; they need to know how they fit into an organization and where they and the rest of the organization are going.

If people don’t invest in what’s going on, they’ll give up. When you treat people like replaceable objects, you will quickly find the “Great Resignation” at your doorstep.

Learn the skills to lead people, not push them around.

Lesson 2: To lead, you must learn to serve

Servant leadership may seem like an oxymoron, but it really is an effective way to lead. The main idea is to equip your team members with the tools and knowledge they need to be successful. If you’re not preparing your employees for success, you’re probably preparing them for failure.

If you want to be a great leader, check your ego at the door. For example: if the restroom needs cleaning, the head servant isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and do it so the rest of the team is free to do productive work.

You don’t have time to sit behind your desk in your corner office and put your feet up. You have to help your team succeed, and sometimes that means getting your hands dirty or doing finger-to-key work to help get things done.

Great leaders are also not afraid to hire people smarter than themselves, let them do what they do best, and give them the tools they need and the time to do it. make.

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Lesson 3: Leaders must deliberately communicate

Some of the best leaders I have worked with have made it a habit to communicate regularly with their team members. That’s not to say that some great leaders were less communicative, but overall the ones that stood out in my mind spent time talking with me.

Deliberate communication is vital for remote work environments that are more common today than in the past.

Leaders need to share things like

  • Vision and direction.
  • How the other person fits into the bigger picture.
  • The “why” of the role of the person.
  • Regular and consistent feedback on the person’s performance.

Part of the deliberation is to put these meetings on the calendar and reschedule them only when necessary. We are all overwhelmed, but it is essential to prioritize regular discussions with team members.

I have made it a rule that I make time to talk with my direct reports at least once a week for 30 minutes. Of course, your schedule may only allow for bi-weekly or monthly interviews. I recommend meeting as often as possible for maximum efficiency.

My only rule about discussion is that it’s the other person’s meeting, not mine. I let them talk about anything they want, whether it’s directly work-related or not. There are several reasons for this:

  • People are more than they are at work – sometimes the outer life crosses that invisible line into work, and it’s good to know when that’s happening so I can do what I can to support them.
  • Sometimes things don’t go well, and there’s no way of knowing if you’re not building rapport and rapport with your team members, so they feel comfortable enough to share. evil as good.

Communication is a two-way street. I strive to be as open and transparent as possible with those around me. I’ll tell them if I can’t say something about it. People have told me that I’m too transparent. That may be true sometimes, but I prefer to sin on TMI’s side because that vulnerability helps build trust.

A note on hiring smart people and getting out of their way: Getting out of people doesn’t mean abandoning them. Deliberate communication is not about micro-management; it’s about communicating.

I’m not a fan of annual reviews. They can sometimes promote laziness in communication. If your team members don’t know where they stand in relation to their role and expected performance, the fault lies with you. Even if your company does annual or semi-annual reviews, don’t wait until the end of the year to rate the performance of your team members. Give them constant feedback – otherwise, you’re doing them a huge disservice.

Communication up the organizational chart is also important. Hopefully, your people leader is also deliberately trying to communicate with you. Don’t miss opportunities to brag about the accomplishments of individual members of your team. When it comes time for raises and promotions, there should be no doubt who won the opportunities for one or both.

Lesson 4: Know yourself and seek to improve

It’s a lesson straight out of US Army NCO training. It applies to everyone, including those in leadership positions.

Leaders, however, must above all continue their education. In addition to keeping abreast of professional knowledge, they must also understand other areas in which they are weak and seek to fill information gaps to manage the work necessary for the team’s success. Sometimes knowing yourself is key to identifying areas where you know you’re not a good fit so you can work to find someone to fill that gap.


Not everyone is cut out to lead. It’s one of those things that can be beyond someone’s strength.

However, anyone can learn what makes great leaders. The key is to have empathy and care about the people you lead.

I leave you with a quote from a great leader I had the privilege of working for: “If you can’t or won’t take care of [people]then you don’t have to do anything as a leader.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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About the Author

Elmer Boutin is Vice President of Operations at WrightIMC, a full-service digital marketing agency based in Dallas. After a career in the US Army as a translator and intelligence analyst, he worked in digital marketing for over 25 years, ranging from coding and optimizing websites to managing content management efforts. online reputation as an independent contractor, corporate and agency webmaster. He has extensive experience and expertise working for businesses of all sizes, from SMBs to Fortune 5 sized companies, including Wilsonart, Banfield Pet Hospital, Corner Bakery Cafe, Ford Motor Company, Kroger, Mars Corporation and Valvoline. ; optimize websites focused on local commerce, e-commerce, information, education and international.

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