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What an Army General Taught Me About Leadership (Entrepreneurs and US Presidents take note)

That the US President has appointed as de facto CEO of the US an Army General should not be a surprise.

More than financiers, and entrepreneurs and business people, you will find in the military people who are too often overlooked to run organisations as CEOs.

That the US 4 star General as the US President's Chief of Staff, sacked the Communications Director did not surprise me. Next to a General, a financier, a hedge fund manager, an entrepreneur has much to learn.

Due to the unfortunate hospitalisation of Baroness Flather, it fell upon me to Chair a meeting of the Commonwealth Memorial Gates a couple of years ago – those towers near Buckingham Palace commemorating the service of Commonwealth soldiers in the two World Wars.

You learn a lot about leadership when you have a General of the British Army in a meeting you are chairing. They have a presence, a commanding air about them – you want them to be in charge.

As I grabbed around for an ounce of credibility, I blurted ‘you know General I am the first of my family in three generations not have served in the British Army. My great Grandfather served, so did my Grandfather and also an uncle who served in Northern Ireland.’ I guess the General thought ‘what went wrong with you then son?’

Unlike any other meeting, I have ever chaired this was by far the most important. This was not a meeting about finance, or investing, but how we commemorate on March 9th(Commonwealth Day) the service of the India Corp on the Western Front 100 years ago in the First World War.

As I planned with General Webb-Carter I recalled how at the service in previous years as I listened to the bugle call I certainly knew my generation is the most fortunate of any generation to have been born on British or Commonwealth soil. Ours was the generation for whom others fought, and a debt of honour we have not ourselves had to pay forward to the next generation.

People grow tired of us who speak of honour and duty and valour and nobility – they roll their eyes – they can afford to do so because of the freedoms provided by those who sacrificed before them and believed in those values – and because of those who still do.

‘Don’t wait for someone behind you to lead’ was the message from Baroness Flather – step forward yourself, because there may well be no one behind to lead.

The lessons I learned from the General:

1. Leaders just get on with it - they wear it about them without the title

Whether he was a General or not, he would have said and behaved the same. The title didn't matter. There was an authenticity. Indeed they literally live and die by their mottos and the motto of one of the most famous regiments is the motto of every entrepreneur - the fit is obvious.

If you run a business, you really should look for ex-Armed services persons to employ and deploy. Nothing gets in their way. They come to you with solutions not problems. And the British Armed forces trains the best.

2. Belief - authenticity

He believed in what he was doing. That belief is what is important, not a title of leader. The end goal. Credit and titles will come if you believe in your work and do an outstanding job.

3. Language

The General spoke like a General. 'Everything under control - who will give me a briefing?' He cared about the bigger picture but then got down to the nitty gritty. Speak and behave like one and you will be one and others will look to you as one and things will get done as they should.

4. Top down, bottom up

As I said: 'Everything under control - who will give me a briefing?' He cared about the bigger picture but then got down to the nitty gritty.

5. Politeness, Respect

On the dome are names the recipients from the Commonwealth of the Victoria Cross in the two World Wars. Now you may not know about the Victoria Cross. It is the highest possible award for valour ‘in the face of the enemy’.

Such is the recognition of bravery, at even the highest ranking officer in the Army will salute a Private awarded the Victoria Cross and at an investiture by the Monarch, it is the VC before all others, including Knighthoods, that is awarded first.

So it was with us in the meeting - each spoken to with respect and politeness - charm in fact which is how leaders get influence. No barking of orders.

6. Discipline

We live an age of dress how you want, it is cool to be an entrepreneur. We have forgotten why uniforms existed; what dress codes represent. A stature, a self-discipline, a standard set for others to follow, a signal. The US President's sacked Wall St Communications Director, looked like he was more concerned about his sunglasses than doing the job with discipline.

7. Something else...

The above may be obvious when written down...but there was something else. An x=factor. Something maybe we call presence. Stature, gravitas. It was not pomposity or arrogance. It was a fine balance between command and control, between security and questioning. Of course, to a general it is natural - to the rest of us it will take observing the subtle cues of leaders. Most of all it just can't be faked. The belief has to run through your veins.

Originally posted here

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