Military leadership traits help business, too

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One benefit of our company’s business sponsorship of the Admiral Nimitz Foundation is its invitation to attend its annual Leadership Seminar.

The event features a talk by a noted military leadership expert, and attendees always come away enthused and infused with good ideas they can take back to their business or organization.

This year’s speaker was Col. Cole Kingseed (U.S. Army, ret.), whose company is called Battlefield Leadership. The 30-year veteran commanded troops and later became the chief of military history at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

At West Point, he said he had the opportunity to meet and talk with the veterans who took part in D-Day, such as Dick Winters, the main character in the “Band of Brothers” book and television series; Joe Dawson, the first commander to get his men on the bluffs above Omaha Beach; Paul Tibbetts, who flew on the Hiroshima bombing mission; and Vernon Baker, an African-American soldier who was given the Medal of Freedom — 50 years after the war.

His Battlefield Leadership program focuses on military leadership ideas that can be transferred to the corporate fields, from Wall Street all the way to Main Street. “Leadership is what makes companies good or great,” he said. “But we know companies also can fall by showing hubris — underestimating the competition and not recognizing significant change.”

 He said corporate leadership is the same as in the military:

•          Strive to be a leader of character, competence and courage.

•          Use a “follow me” style.

•          Lead by example, and,

•          Empower those working under you.

•          He also talked about developing a “sixth sense” to help envision and even shape the future. We should know our industries inside and out, and pick up what we can learn from other industries.

This can be difficult in today’s world, where change is rapid and anyone in a position of authority can feel overwhelmed. But character can show through no matter if we are experts on the latest and greatest widget or whiz-bang internet fad, and that’s what matters most.

Kingseed developed a great relationship with Winters over the years, helping him co-author Winters’ memoirs, “Beyond Band of Brothers.” He marveled at his humility, shown in Winters’ habit of passing royalty checks from the popular book directly to the United Way or other charities.

Kingseed talked about the selflessness of the World War II generation. Not everyone was a commander, but all who fought were leaders in their own by way virtue of having shown up. This is summed up in this quote from a man who served under Winters:

“Your triumph was one of character more than ability or talent. I do not mean to imply that you or your men lacked talent and ability, but I could identify with your talents and abilities. I will never be able to speak like Churchill or have the ambition of Patton, but I can have the quiet determination of Easy Company. I can be a leader; I can be loyal; I can be a good comrade. These are the qualities that you and your men demonstrated under the harshest of conditions. Surely I can do the same in my normal life.”

He said he wishes he could have met hometown hero Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, also known for his humility, whom Kingseed called “the greatest sailor in American history.”

Kingseed said leaders have to measure up to clients, customers and the people who work for them. They must feel both the obligation and responsibility.

Here is how he said he summed up the four principles of leadership to apply to anyone, and we can use these day in and day out at our place of business:

1 - Inspire confidence rather than infect with pessimism.

2 - Take time for personal reflection and ask, “What am I wasting time with, and what is working well?”

3 - Someone else will seize the initiative if you don’t.

4 -  Trust your instincts.

That was an hour well-spent. Consider a membership to the Admiral Nimitz Foundation. If we take this leadership advice and put it into practice, it will reward our businesses and our personal lives many times over.