Leadership Lessons from the Military

Military work — like business — is risky, pressured, and fast-changing.

It calls for absolute clarity about the mission, extraordinary adaptability, and precise management of complex systems.

To those such as I with a special interest in business lessons to be learned from the military, Harvard Business Review offers a “Spotlight Collection” whose contents  explore how to develop and use those capabilities both at a high level and on the ground. It includes articles from HBR‘s November 2010 Spotlight, several web-exclusive pieces, and selected posts from HBR.org‘s Frontline Leadership blog series.

The cost is only $19.95. Click here to receive complete information about ordering a softbound edition or PDF.

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The volume consists of these articles:

You Have to Lead from Everywhere

An interview of Thad Allen by Scott Berinato

When responding to a complex, fast-moving crisis, leaders must constantly adapt their mental models and create a “unity of effort,” argues Allen, a retired U.S. Coast Guard admiral and the national incident commander for the Deep water Horizon oil spill. In this edited interview, Allen — who also brought post-Katrina New Orleans back from the brink of anarchy and headed the Coast Guard’s response to the September 11 attacks along the eastern seaboard — stresses the need to lead both from headquarters and on the ground.

Extreme Negotiations

Jeff Weiss, Aram Donigian, and Jonathan Hughes

CEOs and other senior executives these days must manage countless complex, high-stakes conversations across functional areas and divisions, with alliance partners and critical suppliers, and with customers and regulators. The pressure of such negotiations makes them a lot like U.S. military officers in an Afghan village, fending off enemy fire while trying to win trust and intelligence from the local populace. Both kinds of leaders face what the authors call “dangerous negotiations,” in which the traps are many and good advice is scarce. Business leaders trying to forge a tough deal can learn a lot from skilled negotiators who work in perilous situations.

Which of These People Is Your Future CEO?: The Different Ways Military Experience Prepares Managers for Leadership

Boris Groysberg, Andrew Hill, and Toby Johnson

Americans have long believed that U.S. military officers — trained for high-stakes positions, resilience, and mental agility — make excellent CEOs. That belief is sound, but the authors’ analysis of the performance of 45 companies led by CEOs with military experience revealed differences in how the four branches prepare leaders for business.

Four Lessons in Adaptive Leadership

Michael Useem

The armed services have been in the business of leadership development much longer than the corporate world has. Today’s military leaders need tools and techniques to face a fast-changing and unpredictable type of enemy — so the armed services train their officers in ways that build a culture of readiness and commitment. Business leaders need to foster an adaptive culture to survive and succeed, given that they, too, face unprecedented uncertainty — and new types of competitors.

How the UK’s Royal Marines Plan in the Face of Uncertainty

Arnoud Franken, Chris Paton, and Simon Rogers

Despite shocks such as the Gulf oil spill and the global banking crisis, corporations still treat the world as a predictable place. Instead, they should emulate the UK’s Royal Marines, an organization whose success has much to do with its agility in the face of unexpected adversity. For the Royal Marines, planning a mission is about shaping strategic thinking and figuring out how to reach the desired end state while allowing for improvisation.

“Powering Down” Leadership in the U.S. Army

David Weinberger

According to long-held U.S. Army tradition, leadership is based on a rigid hierarchy. Are you a young officer not sure what to do? Look one level up. But in modern warfare, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, teams of soldiers are distributed across — and embedded in — an entire population. This has sparked a movement toward leadership training that covers not only the skills of single individuals, but the effectiveness of the teams they lead.

Positive Psychology as a Catalyst for Change

John Michel and Andreas Neuman

In 2005, the host unit of North Dakota’s Grand Forks Air Force Base had to reinvent itself to stay relevant. Its large fleet of tanker aircraft was being replaced with a much smaller number of unmanned aerial vehicles. So, the base was left with a vast amount of infrastructure and a capable workforce — but an uncertain future due to its pending change in mission. Morale plummeted, and both military and civilian personnel exhibited an increase in destructive personal behaviors. Clearly something had to be done. The base’s leaders took a page from positive leadership philosophies in business — most notably positive psychology, positive deviance, and appreciative inquiry.


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