What surprised me the most about this article by retired four-star General and former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General Ray Odierno, weren’t what the lessons themselves were, but how few of them he provided, and how, through this utter simplicity, he managed to hit the nail directly on the head.
I have to admit, I almost glossed over the piece, feeling as though the military analogy has almost been overdone in business and, perhaps, may be somewhat dated and exclusionary. I decided to read it anyway, and while what I was expecting was yet another “leadership list” of the top 10 qualities that make great leaders, I was pleasantly surprised to read a simple yet detailed description of a mere 3 qualities that are absolutely integral to great leadership, whether that leadership takes place in business or in war.
The first quality is Balanced Risk-Taking, the key to this being the word “balanced”. Both risk adversity as well as excessive risk-taking can equally result in failure and financial loss in business, and cost lives at war. Balanced risk-taking requires you to constantly assess and understand the current situation, continually developing ways to gather and use information to contribute to well-thought out, yet timely and efficient risk-taking and decision-making.
The second lesson offered is to take a Holistic View to Guide Bold Decisions. General Odierno addresses balance again, contrasting leaders who wait and require every single piece of data and information for making a decision that is now too late to be effective, to those who jump in with no due diligence, costing organizations time, money, and resources when they are wrong. Neither of these leaders can compare to those individuals who can effectively balance when they have just the right amount of information to allow a bold decision to be made. Sometimes, he says “when you make a decision is just as important, if not more than, the information available. Great leaders understand this dynamic”.
Finally, General Odierno emphasizes the importance of Fostering an Atmosphere of Trust. In his own words, he says that the “foundation of any organization is trust. Trust between peers, subordinates and your leaders. Establishing and communicating right and left limits. Empowering subordinates and decentralizing decision making within those limits. Treating everyone within the organization with dignity and respect. All of this contributes to an atmosphere of trust and pride”.
Whether or not you are interested in the military, or even opposed to the military, this is a great business article that really gets to the heart of what needs to be mastered in order to achieve great leadership.