Lessons From the Battlefield

By Heather Baldwin

For anyone who watched last season’s episodes of The Apprentice, the reality show where 18 business people duked it out for a $250,000 apprenticeship with Donald Trump, it became abundantly clear at the end that one of the winner’s real advantages was his military experience. His is not an isolated case: More and more companies are seeking veterans to be their leaders because the military provides unparalleled leadership experience. Stress in the workplace is nothing compared to stress on the battlefield. The good news is you don’t have to run out and enlist to learn some of the same lessons that make veterans great leaders. In his book, Bullet Points: Using Military Tactics and Strategies to Drive Your Business to Victory (Barrymore Press, 2004), Kevyn DeMartino discusses 46 military principles and how they apply to the business world. Here are some of his leadership imperatives.

1. Make a decision. Even if it turns out to be the wrong one, in most cases a wrong decision is better than no decision at all. Leaders who are paralyzed when it comes to making big decisions put themselves and their people at risk. “You’ll never have all the facts you need to make the easy decision,” says DeMartino. “If you do, it’s most likely already too late to act.” All military leadership training imparts that a leader must analyze the information at hand and make a decision.

2. Recognize achievements. Let the whole company know about achievements. You’ll get enormous value not only from recognizing an individual, but from the effect that recognition will have on the rest of the group. Others will be motivated to act uncommonly not because they want the award, says DeMartino, but because they innately hope to prove they add value to the group effort.

3. Avoid too much information. In the military, information overload is known as the fog of war. It happens when fighters reach sensory overload, when real-life death and destruction contrast sharply with simulations and exercises. In today’s business environment, overload happens because rapidly changing technology brings with it new ways to receive and organize data. Want to check email on your cell phone while you’re Web conferencing with three other people? Now you can – and that’s not necessarily good. “We humans can only handle so much,” cautions DeMartino. “Communicate to your staff that they need to come to terms with modern day information overload and triage important information.”