Secrets from the Navy – five tips for effective leadership

Effective leadership can improve productivity, support job satisfaction and unite organisations and teams. Andrew St George, author of the Royal Navy way of leadership, explains what leaders in the business world can learn from the military

Business, like any military campaign, is all about execution. It’s about completing the mission, meeting the deadline, collecting the money. The discipline is there every month in the cash flow: get any part of the execution wrong, and the organisation will see it and feel it at the end of the month. 
Yet execution – the ability to make things happen and bring them to completion – is a skill that schools, business schools and short courses tend not to teach. The skill of getting things done is not an occult art; it can be learned, practiced and improved. The key is leadership and what are called 'soft skills'. These are essentially what the military runs on. There are five key behaviours to focus on.

Further CPD opportunities
The CISI Financial Planning Annual Conference – 4 Oct 2016
Leadership lessons from the front line
Christopher Jones-Warner, Chartered FCSI, Leadership expert and former lieutenant, British Army

1. Know what you are in charge of In other words, base your decisions on expert knowledge. Expertise in your own subject, whatever that may be, is vital so that your people know that you appreciate what you are talking about. If you are driving a car, know how to drive; if you are driving a team of people, know those people and know yourself.

2. Know how to delegate

If someone else in your company can do it, let them. Look at your diary for the last six months and see how many meetings, initiatives, pitches and so on could have been done by someone else (we guarantee it will be around 80%), then identify those times when you were doing what you alone could do (20%). Raise that 20% by delegating.

3. Understand what you are asking someone to doHave a clear sense of the extent of the task you are setting out for them. This is an opportunity for you to show your empathy, appreciate the effort, and to be grateful. Celebrate success and learn from failure (develop a 'no fault' policy to encourage people to improve without losing face).

4. Understand the personal impact you have on peopleYou need to develop high levels of emotional intelligence (some people call this EQ) so that you can control your own emotions, use them to best effect, understand the effect they have on others, and be clear about how you influence people. Nobody follows a pessimist, so be cheerful, even if you don’t feel that way.

5. Grow an ethos Simply put, develop 'the way we do things round here'. Soft skills are absolutely vital here – they produce behaviours that make the workplace better: commitment, courage, determination, respect, integrity and loyalty. Who would want to work where those qualities are absent? Does an organisation with these qualities get things done more quickly, and with less waste? How do you motivate your people, get them to do more with less?

These soft skills actually have little to do with management; they are all about leadership. Management is becoming increasingly mechanised by email, shared data, better communications. Management is about doing things right, but, as Peter Drucker memorably said, leadership is about doing the right thing, both morally and tactically, for the business. Clearly, leaders must be able to manage, and managers lead; but the balance must be right.

Andrew St George is an academic and special adviser to The Second Sea Lord and former adviser to the CEO and Executive Board of Marks & Spencer. His book, Royal Navy Way of Leadership, is the leadership training manual for Navy staff.

Published: 08 Jul 2016
  • Career Development
  • News
  • student membership
  • leadership

No Comments

Sign in to leave a comment

Leave a comment

Further Information