I am often asked what I’ve learned the most from my years of experience traveling and working internationally. My reply is always the same: No matter the country, companies live and die by the leadership ability of their executives. Of all the things that are required for a business to succeed, I place leadership at the top of the list.
The topic of leadership has generated countless books, seminars, articles, and opinions, all attempting to answer two questions:
1. What is the best leadership style?
2. What makes a great leader?
It’s unfortunate, but the topic of leadership has become far too complex for most individuals to understand because there are so many differing opinions. I hope to simplify the discussion in this article.
A Look To Military Leadership
It is a fact that the U.S. has had a military throughout our history as a country. The United States Marine Corps, Army, and Navy were established in 1775 — 245 years ago. (The Air Force was established in 1947.)
No discussion about leadership is complete, in my opinion, without a focus on the accomplishments and longevity of the U.S. military. The Marines, Army, and Navy are among the oldest organizations in existence in America. Why is that? I believe it is because of their leadership.
I am grateful to have served in the United States Marine Corps for six years. I served in multiple roles: armor, infantry, and as a member of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (STA) platoon. In addition, I spent hundreds of hours learning advanced hand-to-hand combat and knife fighting.
And I would have served longer, but a training accident inflicted severe injuries to my ankle and lower back. With that said, I wouldn’t trade my experience in the Marines for anything because it taught me a valuable lesson at a young age: When confronted with adversity or a challenge, find a way to go over, under, or through it.
The leadership traits and principles that I learned in the Marines are relevant for use in both the military and in business.
The Warrior Mindset
Upon being discharged from the Marines, I attended Drake University for my undergraduate degree and went on to earn three master’s degrees from different universities. To earn extra income, I taught self-defense to police officers, security guards, members of the military, and others interested in learning how to protect themselves.
It was during these training sessions that I discovered something that would influence my career in business and consulting: Members of the military have a warrior mindset; most civilians don’t.
Let me explain.
In simple terms, the way I define it, having a “warrior mindset” means that you won’t quit; instead, you will do whatever it takes to win a fight or complete a mission. It means being willing to invest as many hours as necessary to learn and understand what it means to be a leader.
Before I continue, let me make this clear: What I advocate in this article isn’t just for men. I have trained more than 130 women over the years to get in shape, fight with their hands or a knife, and use a handgun for self-defense. Women can learn to have a warrior mindset the same as men. (I believe this Forbes article by Jodie Cook is one of the best articles I’ve read on the topic of having a warrior mindset.)
As a consultant, I often meet with senior executives, from the CEO to members of the board. As I engage with executives, I often encounter individuals who have a disturbing lack of confidence. When I discover that an executive lacks confidence, I don’t focus on the issues that the executive believes are causing problems. Instead, I steer the conversation to the topic of fear and confidence.
In my experience, no company can succeed without confident and competent leaders. I have yet to meet a competent executive who wasn’t also confident.
How A Warrior Mindset Will Make You A Better Leader
Bestselling author and former Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink, believes in the concept of “extreme ownership.” In essence, “leaders don’t just take responsibility for their job, they take extreme ownership of everything that impacts their mission.”
I agree with Willink’s philosophy. The challenge is that most people lack the courage and confidence to carry out such a disciplined style of leadership. Are leaders born or made? I believe a little of both. However, individuals who invest the time and effort to perfect their leadership skills will always have an edge.
I strongly advise individuals who feel insecure to start their journey to achieving a warrior mindset by making a commitment to get into shape through a combination of weightlifting and aerobics. Lifting weights allows a person to see their progress and score small victories as they gain strength. Martial arts, jiujitsu, and boxing are also excellent confidence builders.
Confidence is gained through accomplishment. Set a goal of becoming the best you can be.
Warriors don’t hide from their fears; they embrace them. Accept the fact that you lack confidence, and invest the time and effort to learn how to lead. Slowly put yourself in situations where you have to lead, not manage.
Becoming a leader is a journey. You’ve got this.