CEO Coaching: Lessons From War

I had a good chat on Memorial Day with my son, a retired Marine. I had war on my mind as I read the news that morning with updates on the conflict in Ukraine. He’d been in a particular battle in Fallujah, Iraq, that I knew little about, and I finally asked him more details than I felt comfortable asking before. Combat seems to be a personal experience, and I always wanted to listen to him but never wanted to pry. 

What piqued my curiosity was the disparity in results (measured horrifically by numbers killed) between some forces (e.g., the U.S. Marines) and other forces (e.g., Al Qaeda). In this particular “engagement,” the Marines were outnumbered about three to one but had no loss of life while the attacking insurgents lost approximately 30 (including several suicide bombers).

I don’t like to glorify war. Although sometimes necessary, war is too often the result of men with egos that outstrip their intelligence. However, we should be eternally grateful for those who risk their lives on our behalf. And… there is much to learn about leadership and management in those situations, ergo my questions for my son.

He shared that their compound was breached, and the insurgents drove a large truckful of chlorine and explosives into the building next to the Marine base early one morning and all hell broke loose. The question I was interested in was, “How were you specifically prepared for that attack?” The short version of his answer was that general training was a large part of it along with tight communication and chain of command. He also said that part of the trick was to respond as aggressively as possible. Lastly, there was a four-step plan devised shortly after the attack that identified what the last few men would deploy if all others were killed. Think about that! Makes your weekly planning meeting seem a bit mundane, doesn’t it?

If planning and training for different scenarios, creating a team environment where you would do anything for your coworker, having clearly spelled out communication plans, and having tight execution can produce results like that, it seems to be a good argument for the same orientation regarding business. 

Good leadership and good management look similar from one organization (i.e., the military) to another (i.e., a well-run business). Sometimes you have to wing it, but preparation is most often a better route!

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