by Steven R. Power, Global President, Deputy
Business can be a battlefield.
This is not typically what people anticipate hearing when they ask me to share my thoughts on leadership. They usually expect me to give a canned talk about my business background. Before becoming Global President of Deputy, I’ve been fortunate to hold a number of powerful positions in companies: President, CEO, Founder
These positions aren’t what define me as a leader, though. If I’m really honest about it, the area of my background that best prepared me for the positions I’ve held in business isn’t business related at all. It’s my time in the Australian Army.
From combat to leading startups.
As a Captain in the 4th/19th Prince of Wales’s Light Horse Cavalry Regiment, I led and worked with hundreds of soldiers on exercises across Australia. That’s where I realized that leadership isn’t a gift bestowed upon somebody with a fancy title. It’s something that you have to earn for yourself.
The same is true in the startup world. The startup game is different than the corporate office culture of past generations. In both the military and the startup world, you can’t just walk in and expect instant credibility. Instead, with so much at stake and the risk of failure looming over you, you need to earn your leadership position by demonstrating competence and compassion.
There are some differences between the two worlds, of course. In the military, I was protecting the lives of my soldiers. In the business world, I am merely protecting their livelihoods.
Even so, the parallels run deep. Every single day, I draw on my time as a military commander to channel those same principles of leadership. Here are the lessons I learned that can help other leaders in the ‘trenches’ of the startup world:
Don’t be afraid to ask others for help, even if they’re lower on the totem pole.
Early on, I was in charge of commanding a group of troops made up of soldiers that were both more experienced and older than me. I knew that if I wanted to succeed, their advice and expertise would be critical to helping me start off right. It’s important to overcome the initial worry that asking for help makes you look weak. In fact, the opposite is true.
On the battlefield, soldiers know that there’s no shame in asking for help. It takes a strong leader to step up and admit that they can’t do something alone. Confiding in others that you want or need their assistance will only cement their loyalty.
Communicate the mission constantly.
Even when you think your objectives are clear or obvious, it’s important to state them in writing and out loud as often as possible. By communicating your overarching mission, you remind others that they are part of something bigger than themselves. You also make sure that your employees don’t get so bogged down in the details that they lose sight of the bigger picture.
You may find that in addition to setting others on the right path, better communication will force you to refine your own goals and help you set your own priorities as well.
Tap into the power of focus.
These days, distractions are waiting for us everywhere we turn. In a military environment, succumbing to distractions can be dangerous (even fatal). The ability to maintain a laser sharp focus on your mission is one of the most critical skills that the army teaches.
Don’t underestimate the importance of building trust.
Especially when you’re the new guy, building trust is critical to building your team. If you want others to follow you, they first need to be confident that you’ll take them the right way. Take the time to explain your thought process and gain buy-in from your team before marching forward.
The other key tenet to remember is that trust needs to work both ways. As a leader, if you expect your employees to trust you, you also need to trust them in return. When you empower your employees, you build their confidence and their loyalty to the mission. A one-sided relationship, on the other hand, falls flat and is doomed to fail.
Stay humble. Everyone is in battle together.
Startups need a strong leader to design tactics that accomplish their mission, but they also need someone who is willing to step back and let their employees shine. Sometimes you will be the star of the show, but many times you can simply be a coach that encourages, supports, and motivates employees. Giving credit to your subordinates whenever you can is the sign of a true leader.
Leading from strength.
While there are keen and obvious differences between doing business and being on the battlefield, the lessons learned above stand true. In today’s business world, nine out of ten startups will fail. Committing to these five steps will give any leader a competitive advantage and a strong leader can make all the difference.
Steven Power is the Global President of Deputy. With a proven track record of building highly successful technology companies over almost 20 years, he has extensive executive leadership experience in rapidly scaling high growth US and global SaaS, ecommerce, and digital media organizations. Steve was also part of the leadership team that scaled ReachLocal Inc to over a half billion dollars in annual revenue across 15 countries and listed it on the NASDAQ.