What my dad taught me about strategy, tactics and other business skills

My father spent his entire career in the army which has had (and still has)  a major impact on every aspect of his life. With tomorrow being Father’s day, I am sitting here thinking how my dad’s career choice has had an impact on my business, entrepreneurship and leadership style. Initially I brushed away that motion, but the more I think about it the more I am convinced that there is indeed a correlation.

1. The leader should be a rock that people can trust and rely upon

When you lead your troops to battle you need to have a plan. You need to know what your end goal is and you need to have some understanding of the way to get there. From then on you delegate the operations to the people in your team and move to a role where you provide encouragement, metrics and insurance that we’re still on the right track. You are the solid rock amongst all the turmoil and changes that happen around you. People look at you and your response to the environment so see if they should panic or simply keep going on with the plan.
This is true in battle but also in our business lives. I can’t imagine a general in the army driving his own tank into battle and going full into an artillery direct combat situation. Everybody in the team has their own role to play and it is very clear who does what and when. That’s what you train for and what your drill exercises were meant to instil into you so you don’t have to second guess your decisions when the going gets tough.

As a business leader I have learnt from looking at my dad and how the leadership works within the military. The most obvious lesson would be: do not try to do everything as that is not your role and delegate as much as possible. I may not be as fearless, and am sometimes a bit fuzzy on the distinction between strategy and tactics but I know that my role is that of a general in the army. My role is to plot out the path to take and to make sure my team have the right skills and empowerment to be able to do what is necessary to achieve our shared goal.

2. Pick your battles

Make a choice – do you want to win the battle right in front of you, or are you rather looking at the big picture? What is the war that is going on at the moment? (and are you part of this war at all?) Where do your action yield the most result? Sometimes you just need to cut your losses and retreat. My dad taught me that it’s better to retreat and regroup before heading back out again with a new strategy instead of just plowing on and on and on and exhaust your troops. In business I know that I get personally involved with the results of the business and the experience our customers have and sometimes I tend to get too much bogged down on the battles that are close in my line of sight. I need to think about it more strategically and look at the bigger picture and the overall goal. What is it that we’re trying to achieve? Is this battle worth exhausting my team on, or are we better off to retreat and use a different strategy to move forward?

An example of this approach is when in 2006 we were struggling with our long term contracting projects. Our team wasn’t tuned into each other enough to make this a success and there was a lot of frustration and some losses (both financially and the loss of team members). Looking at the situation from a distance it became clear that this battle was not worth the frustration and aggravation and we decided to move out of that space into an area of business that our team is world class in and that is in line with our overall goals and targets. It made our customers happier and the team has been on fire ever since!

3. Be on time and show respect

If there is one thing my dad insisted on was to be punctual and on time. If possible even a few minutes early. In our family being late is seen as being tardy and disrespectful. And in line with that – follow through on your promises. Surely this has to be a good thing when you are in business. Arriving for meetings on time and finishing them on time and when you promise to do something you actually do it!

I remember when we just arrived in Australia (early 2000) how surprised people were when we actually delivered the proposal within the 2 days, as promised. And I try to be on time for meetings, irrespective of who the meeting is with. When I can’t make the meeting on time – I call to let the person know so they can make a decision on how to spend their time. It’s a matter of courtesy and shows respect for the other person. (at least that’s how I look at it… maybe I am my father’s daughter after all!!)

4. There is an order for things, and a discipline to follow order

Maybe this is the reason why I connected with IT Service Management, and made that into my career. The army is all about system, hierarchy and discipline. I like systems and structures, and I like frameworks and disciplines. I love learning new and better ways to create systems into my business and implement these frameworks and systems into my business. In my opinion discipline gives you the freedom in your head to think about the important stuff. Follow the process and the results will be the same (or similar) every time. Doesn’t work that way? Look at the process, look at the structure and look at the unforeseen circumstances. Most of the time you can figure out how to respond and how to improve.

5. Celebrate the things that really matter

Looking back on the time my dad was in active duty it is clear that his priorities changed. The more he experienced the full gamma of his career (including active duty in war zones), the more he turned his focus on the things that really matter to him: his family. I remember as a little girl my dad coming home after a 6 month overseas deployment and what a party it was to have him back! I still remember the anticipation and excitement as we went to the airport, and how amazing it was to have the entire family together again as a safe and reliable unit. Family was important and to share some time together he started ‘the breakfast show’ – every morning at 6:50am al of us would meet for breakfast. No exceptions!

As a business owner it is so important to forget about the people who are close to you. You spend so much time on running the business, going over the financial numbers and spending time with your team and customers you (run the risk to) take for granted your spouse, children and other close family members. Ultimately your business doesn’t define who you are, it is merely a vehicle to achieve what is really important to you. It not only gives you money to help other people, it also gives you some precious time you can spend with your spouse and children.

So on Sunday we will celebrate Father’s day – it’s important for business.

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