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Guest Post: From the Battlefield to the Boardroom – Leadership Learned from the Military


As a leader, you know that one of the ways to improve is to talk with other leaders. So, when I recently had the opportunity to interview a Marine Captain turned-executive about his leadership advice, I jumped on the opportunity.

Mike served as a helicopter pilot for eight years and was commissioned as a Captain, where he led 40 Marines in efforts to create a protected environment for conducting humanitarian operations in Somalia. Now, he is the VP of an international chemical company specializing in golf and sports turf. While the atmosphere is different, leadership that is deeply rooted in trust, sense of duty, and dedication to a broader cause are just as relevant. This article explores leadership advice that can translate from the barracks to the boardroom.

Me: What values guide your leadership efforts?

Mike: I ask myself two questions: “Would I be the person someone would trust his kid to?” and, “could and would I do what I am asking this person to do?” These questions serve as loose benchmarks of something I place great emphasis on establishing trust. A leader must not only earn trust from his peers but in return, place trust in his peers. As a Marine officer, I learned how to fly a helicopter, and within months, instructors then entrusted me with the controls of the 10,000-pound machine and the lives of 5-8 Marines and SEALS onboard. This exemplifies that it takes a lot of courage to give people skills and then give them room to run and use those skills. On the other hand, especially in the military, subordinates must have a great amount of confidence in their leaders to properly prepare them for a wide variety of potentially dangerous situations. As an officer, I learned how to develop relationships with fellow Marines and earn their trust.

Me: What are some other valuable traits in a leader?

Mike: Modesty is a very valuable trait. One of the most dangerous things for a leader to do is to let ego get a hold of you because if you start being self-absorbed, you stop listening to other people′s advice. Leaders should always be open to self-improvement and do not boast about their accomplishments. “We” is the operative word, not “I” or “me.”

Me: How do you enable teamwork?

Mike: I like to refer Lao-tzu, one of the original philosophers of Chinese Daoism, who said: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists. Not so good when people obey and acclaim him. Worse when they despise him. Fail to honor people, they fail to honor you. But of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, the people will say, ‘we did this ourselves.′” A leader should enable his peers to be self-sufficient as a team and not take the credit and say “Yes, I led them here and did this all myself.”

Me: What one piece of advice do you have for aspiring leaders?

Mike: Whether you are a leader of 100 people, 10 people, or 1 person at the office, at home, or in your personal life, if you work hard, treat people with respect and be a good person, things tend to work out.

About the Author:

My name is Kelly, and I′m happy to be part of the team at Professional Systems USA, Inc., a small business in North Carolina that provides efficient, cost-effective, and time-saving business solutions to streamline and enhance your company′s day-to-day operations, marketing, and communications.

Photo by  Carlos Esteves  on  Unsplash

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