What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from War and the Military

War and the military can provide managers in the business world with a unique perspective on competition from warfare and management from the military to better understand the essential elements that determine the outcome of competition.

The first lesson that corporate managers can get from war and the military is to learn to think strategically. Mistakes in strategy have always been the most fatal mistakes, both for organizations and individuals.

A tactician is a tactician who values ​​the gains and losses of one city and one place; a strategist is a strategist who focuses on the layout of the entire war; a statesman is a statesman who thinks beyond the war. If you lack political acumen and strategic vision, you won’t be able to win lasting victories, even if you have achieved countless spectacular victories. If your strategy itself is wrong, then no matter how strong your tactics and execution ability are, it is often in the opposite direction, and the losses caused by strategic mistakes cannot be recovered.

A classic example is the Battle of Kyiv. The Battle of Kyiv was the largest siege during World War II. Five Soviet armies were wiped out and 650,000 were captured. Hitler proudly called the battle “the greatest battle in the history of world warfare”. However, this battle cost the Germans their best chance to occupy Moscow: the Germans lost two months of precious time because of the Battle of Kyiv, and by the time the Germans launched the Moscow campaign, it was already October. First, the autumn rain made it difficult for the German army to move, and then the severe cold caused the German army to almost lose its combat effectiveness. The Soviet army, because of these two months, got a valuable opportunity to mobilize the Siberian reserves.

Admiral Halder, the former chief of the German army’s general staff, believed that the Battle of Kyiv was “one of the greatest strategic mistakes in the Eastern campaign.”

The same is true for businesses. The greatest loss of organization is the loss of strategy. There are too many companies, because they focus too much on short-term performance, but damage the company’s long-term development. So, don’t stray from your strategic goals for a tactical victory. A series of tactical maneuvers that seem reasonable may just bring you a greater strategic disaster. In Lei Jun’s words, don’t use tactical diligence to cover up your strategic laziness.

Even more frightening than strategic laziness is when something goes wrong strategically, but you don’t know it, or don’t want to admit it, and try to salvage it through tactical or executive-level efforts. It just ends up making you more effective at doing the wrong thing.

The common feature of war and competition is this: if you don’t have your own strategy, you become part of the opponent’s strategy; if you don’t have your own plan, you become part of the opponent’s plan.

A second lesson that business managers can take from war and the military is that systemic organizational capabilities are essential.

In the expedition to Egypt at the Battle of the Pyramids, Napoleon’s French cavalry defeated the Egyptian Mamluk cavalry. After the war, when Napoleon compared the two armies, he left a famous comment: “Two Mamluk cavalry can definitely beat three French cavalry, and a hundred French cavalry can compete with a hundred Mamluk cavalry. 300 French cavalry can defeat 300 Mamluk cavalry, and 1,000 French cavalry can always defeat 1,500 Mamluk cavalry.”

There is probably nothing better than this passage from Napoleon to reveal the decisive impact of systematic organizational capabilities on the combat effectiveness of an army. Only strong organization and good management can support an army’s long-term, large-scale operations.

A very interesting phenomenon in management is that the novice fights again, and the veteran looks at the organization. When an enterprise is just established, managers often focus on the market, products, marketing, popular models, business, and rapid expansion.

Only when suddenly it is discovered that the company can’t fight a tough battle will managers realize that the organization’s ability cannot keep up. All of a sudden the problem surfaced.

Sun Tzu told us 2,500 years ago: “Those who make good use of the military practice the Tao and protect the law, so they can rule for victory or defeat.” The master of real long-termism must first start from the fundamental aspects of some organizations such as ideas and systems. solid.

The third lesson that corporate managers can take from war and the military is that managers must demonstrate excellent leadership.

“Who does the best job of developing leaders?” Management guru Drucker and former GE CEO Jack Welch both answered “US Army.” Drucker also wrote that “the military produces and develops more leaders than all institutions combined, and has a lower failure rate.” Therefore, they recommend that business managers should learn leadership from the military.

In war, good generals are always fought, not elected. What is leadership in war, whether you have leadership or not, and whether your leadership is high or low, will be clear as soon as you enter the battlefield. Looking back on thousands of years of war history, there are two elements that all outstanding generals in ancient and modern China and foreign countries must have. One is a calm and calm will, and the other is the quality of sharing weal and woe.

Leadership in war is first and foremost reflected in a calm will.

In the history of war, the firm and calm leadership of a battlefield commander is inherently powerful. Montgomery, a famous British marshal during World War II, once said in his memoirs: “One of the most valuable qualities of a commander may lie in His ability to spread confidence in planning and combat operations, even though he didn’t have much confidence in the outcome.”

Leadership in war is also reflected in the quality of sharing weal and woe with subordinates.

Don’t expect subordinates to do things you don’t want to do. The actions of sharing the suffering of subordinates, fighting with subordinates, and sharing weal and woe with subordinates are more important than any words in the environment of war. There is a passage in the U.S. Army Leadership Handbook: “Good Army leaders, even at the highest strategic leadership level, do not push their warriors into battle and sit in the rear. Leading on the front lines.”

The fourth lesson that corporate managers can get from war and the military is how to build a strong executive force.

The most powerful organization in the world must be the military. The culture of the military is largely a culture of execution. This is true whether it is our army’s “guaranteed to complete the task” or West Point’s “no excuses”.

For managers, the most difficult thing in execution may be how to get members of the organization to execute consciously and spontaneously. I often take the Long March of the Red Army as an example, and ask managers a question: The Red Army in the Long March was an army that many people today cannot understand. Displaced, faced with hardship and death every day. If this was a Kuomintang army, or any warlord’s army, it would have dissipated soon after leaving the Soviet area. Why did the Red Army’s Long March achieve the final victory?

This is a unit of faith, this is an organization with a philosophy.

Businesses are of course in pursuit of profits, and their employees certainly need financial returns, but even in a utilitarian world like business, companies that lack a clear value proposition cannot go far. No army of warlords or bandits has ever succeeded, even in troubled times. When the dust settles, people will find that in the end, the force with a clear idea must win.

Therefore, a good organization must establish a clear value proposition. Only excellent vision, mission and values ​​can really form a strong incentive for excellent employees. In the words of Zhang Yu, a military scholar in the Northern Song Dynasty, it is “acting on the basis of righteousness, not waiting for orders”. Value-driven execution is the most powerful execution.

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