Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Guest Post: The “General” Manager – Soldier Lessons for the Business Battlefield

By John Durfee, Gulf War veteran and Marketing Manager at Airsplat

You’re about to enter a known enemy compound and your heart is beating in your ears. The temperature is dropping quickly in the desert night. As you wait behind the door, you hear your team line up, boots scuffing the ground, weapons cocked. You open the door and see a burst of light. Gunshots? No, just a small fire burning in the center of an open courtyard. Behind you, your unit fans out providing covering fire and yelling out what they see, “Right Clear!” “Left Clear!” “Windows Clear!”. You find that the compound empty; the enemy must have left before you arrived. However, one fact remains clear to you; your men did well, they performed as they were trained, and if they were to have encountered the enemy, they would have done well.

Whether you’re the platoon commander of an Army Infantry Patrol, or the Director of Human Resources, you’re still a leader. You still set goals for others to follow and make sure everyone performs to the best of their abilities. Both positions need to have the same sense of vision, drive, and planning, in order to make their teams survive and thrive. In today’s economy, a sense of battle in the marketplace is apparent as competition for customers and profits is high. Here are some pearls of wisdom from the military world that are relevant in the business world of today:


“I will always be on time to relieve, and shall endeavor to do more, rather than less, than my share.”
This is a fine line to walk as a leader. If you micromanage, you’ll have employees that wait for instructions every step of the way and will not use their own resources. However, if you don’t give enough direction, and you’ll be wasting time and resources having to delegate and do work over. Not every person in an office can be led the same way. Some may need specific instructions and constant follow up, whereas others are able to work independently and take initiative. Know where to apply your energies and you’ll be working faster and more efficiently. In fact, a great way to increase productivity in a workplace is to cross-train employees across departments. This lets employees understand each other’s role and promotes communication between departments.


“I will lead by example, never requiring a soldier to attempt any task that I would not do myself.”
To be a strong leader, you need to show an unshakeable work ethic. Your team is only as great as you show them to be. It’s a tough example to live up too, but by leading by example you show, rather than tell, what’s to be expected of them. You set the bar of potential through your own work ethic, but you also have to shore up your defenses and patch up any weaknesses. This means that when discipline needs to be applied, it must be consistent and without hesitation. In the military, failures come with consequences. You might not necessarily do it on the first offense, but you need to let employees know you will reprimand those not accomplishing what’s expected of them. This may seem harsh, but an office succeeds and fails as a whole, and all the individuals need to be responsible for the overall success of the company.


“I forsake not my…..my mission, my comrades, my sacred duty. I am relentless. I am always there.”
Growth happens when you are challenged. Maintaining an even keel means you’re giving someone else the chance to advance beyond you. This can be giving another company a chance to rise up past you. No position is entitled, so you must keep fighting and proving yourself to your superiors. If your team becomes relied upon, you’re seen as the hardest working, producing the most value for the company, and therefore you’ll make a name for yourselves. The simple hard and constant application of firepower and force on your goals will keep you competitive. Bill Gates is the master of staying ahead of the pack in the business world. He says, “In this business, by the time you realize you’re in trouble, it’s too late to save yourself. Unless you’re running scared all the time, you’re gone.” Those who aren’t growing are falling behind – if you’re not shooting, you’re the one being shot at.

John Durfee is a Gulf War veteran and the marketing manager for Airsplat, the nation’s largest retailer of Airsoft Guns including Spring Airsoft Rifles.