This article in the Schumpeter column of the Economist touches on how commercial business leadership can be informed and improved by strategies and habits used to govern the military. No surprises, as an ex-serviceman myself, I do think a lot of what is said is true. I am on the Board of Trustees of the Sandhurst Foundation, and swapping leadership ideas with civilian organisations forms a large part of what we do.
I would venture to suggest that it works both ways. Civilian firms have a huge amount to learn from the way the military work in the modern day and so too do the military (and they recognise this) have a lot to learn from business and industry practices. Sandhurst would like to be seen as the “centre of excellence” for military leadership and the Foundation will be the link between business and industry in the future to encourage this cross-pollination of ideas and practices.
Businesses taking on servicemen leaving the forces will instinctively see them as generalists to begin with. What do they offer? I think some serious added value: loyalty, enthusiasm, work ethic and leadership should be a given. Ex officers and warrant officers will also have the ability to get up the curve quickly (these roles last only 3 years). The transferable and highly prized skills ex servicemen can bring to a business is the ability to lead by example and not always command and control; communication skills; and selling – they have been selling difficult propositions throughout their careers. Most will have the ability and passion to deal with all levels of individuals with the same (genuine) interest and focus.
Commercial skills are the obvious weakness but I have met hundreds who have mastered this and many are now CEOs of their own (or public) companies.
I do agree with this article. At long last our troops will return from Afghanistan over the next year and we wish them well. As I do already, I will be helping a number of returnees make that transition into civilian life.
Some will offer a great deal to your firm – I hope you feel you can give them the chance to prove themselves.