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Friday, January 14, 2011

From Front Line to Bottom Line - A Soldier's View of the Business Battlefield (Guest Author)

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What do CEO's and Generals have in common? That's a question I always seem to ask myself because I have one foot in both worlds. I served in the military and I am now making my headway in the business world. Instead of leading a small squad of troops, I now lead a small group of young marketing employees. 

I'm finding that leadership stays true no matter who you're leading. You need to have a strong presence, be a mindful tactician, and play the role of teacher and superior. 

Here are some tips from the military that I've transitioned into my management style. 

Generals Grow Armies
In the military, this is called enlisting and boot camp. In the business world, this is known as hiring and training. The first step is to be a discerning interviewer – you want to look for existing skills and long-term potential as well. I'm naturally more inclined to hire someone who has shown a history of being "hungry," i.e., someone in school or someone who has been promoted multiple times.

These are individuals who will only prove more valuable with time. Also, there is no consideration for late interviewees - if that's their best behavior on the first meeting, then I certainly don't want to see what it's like during high pressure times.

During boot camp, strengths and weaknesses become apparent and natural leaders come out. When you're training new employees keep a close ear to the ground and see which ones take initiative. These are potential lieutenants, or trusted aids, which will help you, run your operation.

Training helps employees not only learn new procedures and protocol, it also is about teaching self regulation and self correction. In my marketing team, I actually have employees check each other's work before providing it to me for submission. This way I know it has gone through a few sets of eyes and minor errors are eliminated. It is a leader and manager's job to see the big picture and not get distracted by the small-scale mistakes. Those self-regulated status checks along the way save time in the end.

Generals Plan their Strategies
“Watch, listen, and learn. You can't know it all yourself. Anyone who thinks they do is destined for mediocrity,” Donald Trump.

A great leader is predictive and responsive. First, you need to find information on your opposing force. Be honest with yourself and evaluate your operation in comparison to your competitors. Hire outside contractors or send over your own employees to be "test customers." For example, if you're a retailer, find out how their customer service works, how they lay out their products on the shelves, and what coupons or sales they offer. You want a large set of honest objective information - because it is that information that allows you to evaluate where you lead and where you fall short.

A great leader also needs to be flexible. In my line of work, it's fairly easy to be flexible, as we're competing directly with marketing teams from other companies for the same set of customers. We can see their campaigns on their websites and Facebook pages. From there we can determine how to improve our offers and outreach. What you need to be careful of is the difference between being adaptive and being reactive. A reactive leader waits for the other side to make a move first, while an adaptive leader changes and adjusts their stratagem on the fly.

Generals are First into Battle
“The company is definitely set up in a way where myself and the other founders have a lot of control over it,” Mark Zuckerberg.

When spearheading a campaign, responsibility and consequences fall to me because every previous decision and aspect of my force has been chosen, trained, determined, and implemented by me. To be a leader is to be constantly tested against your choices. Not every choice is the best way or even the right way. 

A great leader is one who can admit a shortcoming and improve upon it quickly. Bill Gates is well known for saying, “behind most great and successful products or businesses are entrepreneurs who were turned down a hundred times.” Risks will need to be taken. It's a great leader who calculates the least amount of risk for the highest payoff.


John is an Operation Freedom War veteran and a manager for Airsplat, the nation's largest retailer of Airsoft Guns including Spring Airsoft Rifles.

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