Take Command with Veteran-Styled Leadership

Jake Wood knows good leadership when he sees it and he knows it starts with the ability to inspire those around you.

Out of 100 people, he noted, 80 will be sheep, 10 shouldn’t be there in the first place, nine will be fighters—but there will only be one warrior whose job is to bring everyone home.

As co-founder of the all-veteran disaster response organization, Team Rubicon—and a veteran himself—Wood shared his inspiring story and his insights during last month’s 127th Annual Meeting. From being prepared to making bold decisions—from dealing with uncertainty and learning to follow as much as lead—Wood showed that veteran-styled leadership can benefit business at every level and that veterans themselves are ideally suited to today’s fast-paced and highly-variable environment.

“Take your veterans seriously,” he challenged the business community. “Veterans are tested by leadership in battle. Give them an opportunity and a job to succeed, and they will add tremendous value to your organization.”

Here are Wood’s four lessons to help you become the “take command” leader that brings order to chaos and makes sure everyone gets to the finish line.

Lesson #1: Build High-Impact Teams

Your people, your organization should be aiming to make a drastic impact in whatever it is they do, Wood said. He noted there are plenty of opportunities both internally and externally to make extraordinary headway and a tangible difference… IF you are bold enough to make the attempt.

“The best teams are daring enough to try, foolish enough to think they can do it, and persistent enough to succeed,” Wood quipped. It’s about transparency and trust, he said, which inspires people to follow their leaders. He also said to take stock of your team with measures that matter—not just vanity metrics. One way to measure impact is to ask would our brand leave a void in the world that couldn’t be filled if we were gone tomorrow?

Lesson #2: Know—Then Accept—Risks

It’s easy to develop a mental understanding of the risks we face in our business or job responsibilities. It’s a far bigger and different thing to have an emotional acceptance of those risks—in other words, to really be ready for them without question or pause.

“It only takes one moment of weakness that leads to hesitation in making a decision. And that can cause terrible damage to team morale or even lead to long-term business consequences,” Wood poignantly pointed out. He likened it to the counter-insurgency squad leader walking the potentially bomb ladened roadsides. Knowing the risk to life and limb is utterly different then facing it fully and fearlessly because you’re OK with it.

Lesson #3: 80% of the Solution 100% of the Time

Now that you’ve accepted risks right down to the core of your heart, it’s time to realize you can’t possibly know everything you need to at all times. High-impact teams crave action, and sometimes it’s important to take that action in order to have the biggest effect desired… even when you don’t have a fully baked plan.

Here’s the approach Wood successfully applied in both the Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan and the disaster emergencies faced by Team Rubicon: Plan for what you do know and be prepared to implement 80% of the solution right away. The rest can be developed and iterated upon as things change or as you get more boots on the ground. (See Lesson #4.)

“Don’t wait for the perfect plan. Just start doing something right away to make the most impact wherever and whenever you can,” he said.

Lesson #4: Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

Taking a cue from his experience in the military, Wood said businesses should leverage the use of the “small unit leader.” These are the people who care about your organization and the mission, and they naturally take ownership in solving problems. Since it’s nearly impossible to see everything from the top, these leaders serve as eyes and ears where the rubber hits the road, and they provide the creative ideas and input needed to develop the changes needed to win.

“Set the direction of your organization—the 80%—and then let your people go and execute,” Wood said. “Trust them and allow your people to succeed. Let them make the vital decisions to complete the final 20% of the solution.”