Why the Military Produces Great Leaders

Why the Military Produces Great Leaders

One assumption at the core of this blog is that military service—particularly service in the crucible of combat—is exceptionally effective at developing leaders. Why? It’s nurture, not nature.

First, in all services, military leadership qualities are formed in a progressive and sequential series of carefully planned training, educational, and experiential events—far more time-consuming and expensive than similar training in industry or government. Secondly, military leaders tend to hold high levels of responsibility and authority at low levels of our organizations.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, military leadership is based on a concept of duty, service, and self-sacrifice; we take an oath to that effect. We view our obligations to followers as a moral responsibility, defining leadership as placing follower needs before those of the leader, and we teach this value priority to junior leaders. Our leadership extends to caring for the families of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, or marines, especially when service members are deployed. When serving in crisis conditions where leadership influences the physical well being or survival of both the leader and the led—in extremis contexts—transactional sources of motivation (e.g. pay, rewards, or threat of punishment) become insufficient. Why should a person be motivated by rewards when he might not live to enjoy them? Why would a person fear administrative punishment when compliance might lead to injury or death?

Soldiers in such circumstances must be led in ways that inspire, rather than require, trust and confidence.

When followers have trust and confidence in a charismatic leader, they are transformed into willing, rather than merely compliant, agents. In the lingo of leadership theorists, such influence is termed informational leadership, and it is the dominant style of military leaders.

Contrast the military leader value set reflecting service to the one that currently exists in some US businesses. Are we likely to see business leaders placing the well-being of their shareholders and employees above their own? Yesterday, February 4, 2009, in a swift response to public outrage, the Obama administration imposed a cap of $500,000 in pay for top executives at companies that receive large amounts of bailout money from the US Government. From a military perspective, a half million dollars is a generous sum, more than double the compensation of a four star leader in charge of a theater of war.

But the quantity of compensation isn’t as relevant as the message to followers that, when times were tough, the leader put his or her personal well being ahead of theirs. Such perceptions of a military leader in combat would render that leader mistrusted and ineffective in the eyes of soldiers forever. Why should business leaders expect anything else on the part of people desperate about the loss of their equity or employment or lifestyles? The current economic environment, partly caused by a crisis of self-service leadership, has created belt-tightening reminiscent of a world war, with budgets slashed, travel funding restricted, training programs cut, personnel layoffs, and other draconian, cash-saving measures in place. CEOs have to start leading like generals—even if that means living a lifestyle in common with their troops.

The best leadership—whether in peacetime or war—is borne as a conscientious obligation to serve. In many business environs it is difficult to inculcate a value set that makes leaders servants to their followers. In contrast, leaders who have operated in the crucibles common to military and other dangerous public service occupations tend to hold such values. Tie selflessness with the adaptive capacity, innovation, and flexibility demanded by dangerous contexts, and one can see the value of military leadership as a model for leaders in the private sector.

In your own development as a leader, have you found value in putting other people first? Did it seem out of place in competitive, results-oriented businesses? Did it powerfully influence people, or did it merely suggest weakness? And have you had role models in business who you see as effective because of their servant leader orientation?

Company Culture Warning Signs

Company Culture Warning Signs

10 Warning Signs of a Negative Corporate Culture

Having a strong corporate culture is an achievable goal for business. Yet, this doesn’t always just naturally happen. A corporate culture that is enjoyable for employees and enables their best work to be produced, is something to work on; in this article I’ll discuss 10 warning signs of a negative corporate culture and the warning signs they give off.

The effect that a negative company culture can have can be huge. Often contributing to increased employee turnover and decreased motivation. These can then influence their work, aiding in the production of work that is perhaps not as great as it otherwise could have been. However, because a strong corporate culture is sometimes an afterthought, many companies fall into the trap of contributing to a negative corporate culture.

Because the trap of a negative corporate culture looms over every business, precautions must be taken to ensure they’re not a casualty. So when it comes to warning signs to look for, the good news is, you don’t have to look too far. Businesses, management and employees can all employ tactics to ensure they’re working in a good culture. It’s this foresight that can ensure the longevity of the business, or lack thereof.

Here is a straightforward list of 10 warning signs of a negative corporate culture that you should look out for.

Poor internal communication

A lack of team spirit in the office can be toxic to a business. This is why it’s no surprise that poor internal communication is an undeniable sign of a negative culture. However, because your business aims to create a culture where everyone is friendly and supportive of each other, communication is key.

Creating an atmosphere where internal communication is free flowing and easy is ideal for culture creation. When speaking to one another becomes difficult, forced and un-enjoyable, this is where a problem arises.

To positively influence your corporate culture, ensure the team is able to freely speak their minds. This can be fostered and easily achieved through the hiring process.


When under constant scrutiny from management, it can create an atmosphere full of tension. Regardless that micromanagement doesn’t work, all its good for is slowing down work and ensuring employees are under unnecessary pressure.

To avoid this, avoid micromanagement. Trust in your hiring process and trust in your employees. Creating a great company culture is easiest when the tasks are clearly laid out. But allowing the individual to work autonomously and at a comfortable speed.

Hyper competition

When it comes to getting work done, competition can be great. In fact, little more beats a bit of friendly competition between co-workers. Unfortunately, it’s when it turns into unfriendly competition is when things can begin to drive wedges between employees.

By all means, implementing schemes such as ‘Employee of the Month’ can ensure more of your employees do their best work. But when competition gets too competitive, things can turn south, fast.

Bad habits

Bad habits can often start from the top. If the management of a company have bad habits when it comes to work, they can then bleed over to employees believing this is the correct way of going about the business. For example, if a manager consistently comes into work late, employees will learn that this is okay to do. If industry standard practices aren’t taken when performing tasks, employees may soon follow. Eventually, this will make for an incredibly negative corporate culture.

If this isn’t the case, often bad habits can come about because of a failure to properly manage your employees.

Focus on profit

Ensuring the company has a good quarter can be important, but solely focussing on the bottom line can be detrimental to the culture and business all the same. In fact, “companies that don’t have a strong sense of purpose tend to focus more on the bottom line (69%) and short term results (52%).

Beyond this however, it’s believed that businesses that only focus on profit, leaving no room for employee engagement, tend to be those that people leave. Its easy to enjoy work when the business puts in effort for you.

Office gossip

Gossip is negative regardless what environment one is in. When in the office, it can be detrimental to the atmosphere, causing a shift in the culture and may even constitute bullying and therefore termination. Office gossip can be hurtful, spiteful and leaves everyone becoming closed off and guarded. Influencing a negative corporate culture can be easy when gossip starts.

To deal with this, the best thing to do is to speak directly to those in the office effected by it, as well as those who may be the culprits. Following this, it’s good managerial practice to speak to the office as a group, also.

Low office engagement

Employee engagement can be one of the reasons an employee chooses to move on. Unfortunately, low engagement among employees has the potential to be common. Still, to combat against this, can be easy, all the while breathing new life into the office with a great culture.

The solution? To celebrate birthdays, make time for non-business related chats and maybe get a ping pong table for good measure.

Lack of empathy

When it comes to human interaction, empathy is important. Yet, when it’s not there, it can appear even more important. Engaging employees and having empathy for them and their lives is fundamental to creating relationships as well as culture.

In the working environment it can be as important. For example, understanding and being empathetic towards co-workers strengths and weaknesses is of value. Know that although something may come easily to some, it mightn’t come easy to others.

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Poor management and leadership

Like ‘Bad habits’, it can often be the management of a company that starts things on a downward trajectory. From setting a standard of bad habits, to not managing employees properly, the culture can often be the casualty.

To fix this, ensure the management and leadership of the company are setting the standard and get the best from the employees.

5 Signs of Passive-Aggressive Management: Why It Kills Employee Motivation and How to Deal

5 Signs of Passive-Aggressive Management: Why It Kills Employee Motivation and How to Deal

We’ve all had to deal with that passive-aggressive boss at one time or another, and it sure ain’t fun.

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We’ve all been there. Somehow, through a loophole in the karmic system of workplace balance and order, your boss has landed a position he or she just doesn’t seem to deserve or know how to handle with confidence, and, unfortunately for you, they know it.

This is when employees often come across one of the most difficult bosses to deal with – the passive-aggressive manager. Passive-aggressive management stems from that person’s insecurity in his position and ability to maintain authority, or simply insecurity in himself.

Unfortunately, employees can smell that type in ineptitude all the way from that corner office. Think, The Office; either the original or American version will do.

But how do you know if you really have a passive-aggressive boss? And what’s the best way to deal with it?

If any of the following warning signs ring true, you may have some managerial passive-aggression on your hands, and unless that manager makes some immediate changes, he or she will be on the fast track to losing employee respect and dampening motivation.

Read on for the warnings signs of passive aggressive management and the best way to deal with it in the workplace:

1. There’s no direct critique of work, good or bad

The passive aggressive manager will do his or her best to avoid giving any kind of direct critique of your job performance. Employees often receive little to no feedback, and no praise or promotion for excellent performance or exceptional talent. Basically, with this type of manager, you never know where you stand. Talk about bad for morale.

How to deal:

If your boss never gives critiques, or does so in a way that still leaves you feeling unclear about where you stand, ask directly about your performance. Putting her on the spot with a direct question rather than playing her game might help her give you feedback that’s actually valuable.

Doesn’t work? Put your head down and do the best possible job you can.

2. Rules are vague or unnecessary

When this manager puts rules or directions in place, they give them in the form of passive statements. Rather than complete and explicit dos and do don’t s for employees, this manager gives a vague sets of guidelines, derived from a formula that only she knows. If anyone begins to stray from the picture she has in her head, she becomes upset, possibly invoking new, stricter rules that are even more unnecessary or unclear.

How to deal:

As an employee, this can be a difficult to handle. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, your boss is your boss. He or she gets to make the rules, and it’s your job to follow them. If you want no hassles, simply do what they ask to the best of your ability.

Or, if the rules are totally out of control, try to figure out your boss’ motivation. Maybe it’s not that he really cares about how long your lunch break takes; he actually cares about how it looks to other employees and their superiors. Figure out what line your boss wants you to toe, and do your best to toe it.

3. Pickiness about the wrong things

This is a surefire sign of mismanagement if there ever was one. If you have a boss who never comments on the more important issues, such as how your work contributes to the overall goals of your company or how your production quality looks compared to some of the best employees, and instead constantly finds tiny details to pick at, he could very well be insecure about his position. Such a strong focus on things that matter least is confusing for employees and leaves you second-guessing your work and your value.

How to deal:

If this happens once in awhile, just let it go. But if it’s a constant issue, the next time your boss picks at something small, try this approach: Acknowledge the complaint fairly, then ask how to best tailor the current project to ultimate goals. Or ask for formal documentation of the errors you’re making, so you can keep track and improve. No matter what you do, tread lightly.

4. Absence of professional development and sharing of expertise

A great leader wants to help everyone improve. An insecure leader secretly fears losing her position to someone else and avoids sharing what she knows at all costs. Passive-aggressive managers are not comfortable enough with their expertise to share their experience with their employees, which means little training for new employees and no professional development or collaboration for employees already working in the company.

How to deal:

This can be a pretty depressing environment to be a part of, if you like to learn or have career goals. (And don’t we all?) The best way to deal is to sidestep your boss altogether. There are plenty of ways to learn from those around you. Your co-workers probably have ranges of knowledge that you don’t, and vice versa. If your boss is holding you back from expanding your career (maybe without even knowing it), it’s time to start looking elsewhere for professional development, and, ultimately, figure out how to leave both your boss and position behind.

5. Avoids valuable interaction with co-workers

A great manager knows how to dance the fine line between maintaining a position of authority while still having genuine interactions with employees. The passive aggressive manager, on the other hand, cannot let down his guard. Although she wishes strongly to be liked by employees, often playing the role of the joker or comedian, she feels she must place a wall between herself and subordinates to avoid genuine interaction. This manager builds up the wrong types of distances between himself and co-workers. She seems friendly and open one moment, then retreats the next.

How to deal:

Keep your distance as much as possible. It’s obvious your boss wants to draw a line between himself and his employees. Simply focus on the positive aspects of your work environment, without putting much stake in how your boss acts from one moment to the next, and focus on relationships with your coworkers instead.