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Parallels between military and workplace leadership?

Last Thursday I got to do something that I don’t often get to do as a professional speaker – I sat in the audience and listened to someone else stand on the platform and deliver the keynote speech.  General Rick Hillier delivered the breakfast address at the Canadian Society of Association Executive’s conference in Toronto ON, and I was one of several hundred people in the audience.  His topic: leadership; which of course is a subject near and dear to my heart.

Now if you’re Canadian, you no doubt have an opinion on Canada’s presence in Afghanistan; I too have my own political views on this subject.  But politics is not what today’s blog post is about.  Instead, it’s about what constitutes effective leadership.  And for about 40 minutes last Thursday, I set politics aside and listened to Hillier’s message about being a good leader.  Drawing upon his experiences in the Canadian Forces, most recently as Chief of Defence Staff, Hillier laid out several characteristics of what it takes to be a good leader in the military.  And not entirely unexpectedly, as he talked, I was struck with how similar they were to what it takes to be a good leader in business, in the community, in sports, in pretty much in any arena of our lives.

Merge had a few minutes to chat with General Rick HillierMerge had a few minutes to chat with General Rick Hillier

Three in particular caught my attention:

  • Good leaders are perpetually optimistic.  Whether or not you feel like it, if you’re a leader, you are a role model to others around you.  People look to you for inspiration and direction.  If you expect the worst, so will they.  So it’s up to you to provide encouragement and motivation, even under difficult circumstances.
  • Good leaders never waste a crisis.  It’s not that you go out looking for a catastrophe, but when it happens, you have to take advantage of it – to demonstrate compassion, to take decisive action, to take a stand on a difficult situation, or to build strength and tenacity in others.  Don’t squander a disaster!
  • Good leaders acknowledge and include families.  When an employee goes above and beyond, it usually is with the support of and at the expense of their families.  When you individually acknowledge, thank and involve an employee’s family, you create more goodwill than if you had just thanked the employee alone.  This seems obvious in the military where soldiers on active duty leave their families for long periods of time, but it is just as true in the workplace, even though the scale and magnitude of the tasks can be much smaller.

What do you think?  Are there any other parallels (or for that matter, differences) between military leadership and workplace leadership?


  • As an experienced combat leader and trainer, author Ralph Puckett discusses this topic in his book, “Words for Warriors.”

    He shares what he has learned in more than fifty-eight years of training, leading, teaching, and mentoring Warriors. This book addresses tactics, training, administration, special staff, public relations, self-development, and myriad other subjects that are the responsibilities of commanders. Much of this advice will be useful to business leaders as well.

  • Thanks for your comment Melissa. Not unexpectedly, there are indeed many parallels between leadership in the military and in the workplace. As long as we can pull out the “good” from any environment and use it to become better leaders, then we are destined for better workplaces, and a better world!


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