John Durfee is an Operation Freedom veteran and a manager for Airsplat, the nation’s largest Airsoft retailer. He recently contacted me about my work and offered to share his insights on what he learned in the military and how it relates to business. I appreciate John for both his contribution as a soldier and his wisdom as a leader. Here is his guest blog:
When I was on my tours of duty in the military, one thing I always found comforting was having our commander on the front lines alongside us. When we were far away from our operating base on extended missions, he made sure we had extra rations and ample water. He also ensured that we were all handling things well – not only physically, but also emotionally. A great leader is many things, and these are a few ideas my commander taught me:
The key is enabling and trust. In a military unit you put your faith in your squad mates, your life is literally in their hands, and vice versa. With that sense of responsibility you don’t want to let anyone down. I try to build that same sense of trust in my office team.
Being a leader gives you a unique perspective. You get to see everything as a whole, and invariably there will be one or two people that stand out from the rest. They get things done a little faster, and they’re always enthusiastic and ready for anything. These are your right hand team members. Next time you have a larger scale project, hand it off to them.
Give a budget. Let them know their resources available and not much else. If you have hardworking individuals, think of them as your ‘squad leaders’ in your army. Give them responsibility, and you’ll be managing more, and directing less.
“To lead an army you must never forget what it feels like to be a soldier on the ground.” A real example would be on my second deployment; I had just been promoted to squad leader in a new group and we needed to do vehicle repairs and maintenance. Instead of just getting the lowest ranking soldiers to do it, I was lying on my back in the dirt changing the oil, getting about as tired and sweaty as the rest of my crew. I would coordinate the efforts, but I would do the work just as much as the next man in my crew.
Accept responsibility. Avoid being the finger pointer as they are the ones when questioned by their superiors about mistakes made will point the finger downwards to their employees. As a manager, you should have been trained those working below you so their mistakes are as much of your fault as it is theirs. If one of my squad members (I was a sergeant) fell asleep during guard duty, I would have to be out there with them pulling the double shift the next night, or doing latrine duty. It’s a strong leader that can admit to mistakes and move forward – it’s the weak one who raises his voice and points the finger.