Some Business Leaders and CEOs are still failing to understand that the crisis facing their business is tantamount to a country facing a WAR. Just like in a WAR, information is changing daily, solutions are unclear and supplies are often limited.
So where can today’s business leaders facing multiple crises at the same time turn to for answers? For thousands of years, military leaders have experienced challenges of this magnitude and, if operating today sometimes feels like “the fog of war”, I believe you can usefully turn to lessons from some of history’s most effective military leaders for insight as how to deal with the pressing challenges that the present crisis is bringing along. Let’s review some of these important lessons:-
Be decisive. Many business leaders today are facing some of the toughest challenges they have ever known. Whole businesses will have to be restructured. Business leaders can learn from one of the first lessons taught in the military: Don’t dwell on your losses. For example, in 1812, after Napoleon invaded Russia, the celebrated Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov knew that strategically he had to abandon Moscow to the French, who looted and burned the spiritual capital of Russia, in order to regroup and fight Napoleon from a position of strength, which he did, successfully….and won the WAR.
Be in the trenches. Great military leaders fight side by side with their soldiers as Hannibal did in the Second Punic War. The Duke of Wellington is said to have remarked that Napoleon’s very presence on the battlefield was worth 40,000 fighting men.
Be agile. When Winston Churchill became prime minister in May of 1940, he attacked the slow-moving British war bureaucracy by printing red “ACTION THIS DAY” labels, which he personally pasted to many documents he dispatched. Napoleon was famous for his laser-focused planning and obsession with time management. But Wellington beat Napoleon at Waterloo with agility — he famously moved constantly among the troops, repositioning whole armies on the fly.
Lead with confidence. Mood is everything. Workers feel they are on the front line. Great military leaders know they must lead with confidence underpinned by optimism.
Communicate to inspire. Wartime leaders know that communicating transmits vital information and strengthens resolve. Churchill is a prime example of this. He used his excellent command of the English language to inspire millions and to win the WAR. Napoleon sent daily, short but uplifting dispatches to the troops, which built morale.
Move leaders and tasks rapidly. In war, some leaders rise to the occasion. Military leaders give more and more command to those who succeed, promoting them quickly up the ranks and expanding their responsibilities. Those struggling are not fired, but their workload is reduced and step-by-step instruction is given until they are effective.
Rest the troops. As a Business Leader you should limit immensely your time off but make sure to rest the troops. During the six years of World War II, Churchill ONLY took eight vacation days (and even then, he read his daily dispatches). At Waterloo, Wellington ONLY slept for 9 hours during the 90-hours long battle with the French. However soldiers in the field need food, rest, leisure, pay and entertainment. During the Second World War, the US arranged for entertainers like Bob Hope and countless others to perform before American soldiers to boost their morale. As we all work harder than ever during Covid-19, many of us glued to Zoom or Teams and a variety of screens, leaders need to make sure employees are rested, that weekends exist and that, with summer, ways are found to provide vital vacation time.
At the heart of managerial leadership is strategy, and the word strategy itself comes from “Strategos,” the Greek word for general. Now, as leaders turn to the hard job of salvaging and strengthening their businesses and motivating their teams, they must build a new management paradigm, one characterised by decisiveness, working side-by-side, agility, optimism, inspiring communication, and enhanced work life balance. This is likely the best opportunity you will ever have in your life to prove yourself as a good leader.