Military lessons for the civilian office - Executips


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Military lessons for the civilian office

These past few weeks, moviegoers have been raving about this film depicting the life of a controversial Filipino general during the Fil-American war before the beginning the 20th century. So, today I’d like to write about my favorite military quotes. A leader who remembers them may have an edge in the battlefield of life and work.

“The morale of the soldier is the greatest single factor in war. “
Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, British Field Marshall

The battle plans of a general may be bullet-proof but the behavior of a handful of his soldiers can tear it down entirely. An example in history tells us that gate guards who accepted bribes allowed the enemy to pass through a thick defensive wall built over many, many years.

Many offensives failed  and many defensive lines broke down because troops were not zealous enough to  advance or to hold their position.

In the civilian office, organizational charts always look good on paper. But work will not flow as designed and desired if some employees don’t care enough. Maybe they don’t understand how the company makes money, maybe they don’t have a sense of mission to the community, maybe they don’t even like their boss.

A company officer’s strategic brilliance or prestigious education will not work if he fails to enlist the committed cooperation of every employee. They have to know why their part, no matter how small it seems, matters in the larger scheme of things. That’s is why every leader has to be almost like a spiritual leader.

We must not rely too much on org charts, job descriptions and training. It is good to continuously invest in motivation, loyalty and relationships.

“No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.“
Helmuth Von Moltke, German Field Marshall

Even one of history’s greatest military leaders knew that the best plan will never happen exactly as planned.

We may predict the scenario but there are factors often beyond our control. The weather. Our enemy’s tactics. Our own troops’ morale. The behavior of civilians in the area. The communication system. Disease. Etc.,etc. Once the enemy appears on the horizon, soldiers may forget, fear or fail to execute.

Like generals, coaches and politicians, a leader must always have a plan B, C, D, E.

This lesson also reminds us to not lose heart when we can't predict with precision or achieve perfection. We are only strategists, not psychics.

A movie director’s final edit may not be free from the producer’s cost-cutting “suggestions.” A coach will accept that the game plan was not executed because the key player sustained an injury. Parents cannot always keep their children away from “bad” friends.

The important thing is that we don’t panic in the middle of the battle. And that we can always gather our troops to fight another day.

“Follow me, lead me or get out of my way.”
Gen George S Patton, Commander of the Seventh United States Army

There are contrarians everywhere. These are people who delight in contradicting people, theories, even history. They love to start debates, they question policies and they often give the leader a headache.

They can be annoying but it is good to have one who challenges group thinking.
( Groupthink is dangerous. ) If the contrarian has the good intention of helping you succeed, and they‘re making sense, give them the chance to influence your plan. Give them credit, too.

If such person is sincere but does not seem to have a bright idea, acknowledge his eagerness but make him understand why his suggestion will not work.

There are some people who just want to make noise because they want to look smarter than everyone or they want to seize leadership. Their love for their ego is tearing the team apart.

If you have patience, try to win them over to your side. First, use a heart to heart talk. If it doesn’t work, give a warning. Finally, send them to the firing squad.

Never allow yourself to be distracted by people like them.

In work and in life, we will face many battles. Some wars we choose, some we have to fight because we have to survive. We, the leader, should be determined to be the last man standing.

But one man fighting a whole army only happens in the movies. We have to make sure that everyone in the office, from the lowest rank up to the Board of Directors, believes in what US Army Chief of Staff Gen Douglas MacArthur said :

“It is fatal to enter a war without the will to win it. “

If you have concerns about your job or if you wish to suggest a topic, you may email me at

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