Five business lessons I learned from serving under General Petraeus

PetraeusJonathan Watson, one of our Directors of New Business for Evergreen Trading, came to us from the military. The harrowing stories of his Special Operations training aren’t soon forgotten and for a number of years, he served in a variety of capacities.

In his role as Multi-National Corp-Iraq Chief of Morale, Welfare and Recreation, Jonathan worked under General Petraeus. It was his job to keep the troop morale high and provide the behind the scenes support that the General demanded for his men. During this time, Jonathan learned a great deal about the General and his core leadership principles. They were ideas that tended to deviate from traditional military thought, but as Jonathan often witnessed, they resulted in an exceptionally strong morale and discipline among his men.

Jonathan believes that Petraeus’ military principles translate well into business leadership, so I asked Jonathan to list of few of them. He came back with almost 20, so let’s consider this post to be part one.

1. Foster lasting solutions. Help our Afghan partners create good governance and enduring security. Avoid compromises with malign actors that achieve short-term gains at the expense of long-term stability. Think hard before pursuing initiatives that may not be sustainable in the long run. When it comes to projects, small is often beautiful.

Business translation: Look for long-term solutions. Avoid quick fixes, hiring, or initiatives that serve the short run at the expense of long-term profitability.

2. Money is ammunition; don’t put it in the wrong hands. Institute “COIN contracting.” Pay close attention to the impact of our spending and understand who benefits from it. And remember, we are who we fund. How we spend is often more important than how much we spend.

Business translation: Our business enterprise is a direct result of the sum of our investments. Choose investments wisely by clearly understanding our gains and the beneficiaries of those investments. Are they aligned with our longer-term strategies?

3. Walk.  Stop by, don’t drive by. Patrol on foot whenever possible and engage the population. Take off your sunglasses. Situational awareness can only be gained by interacting face-to-face, not separated by ballistic glass or Oakleys.

Business translation: Corporate leadership should not be isolated within their corner offices. Get out and talk to your reports and those reporting to them. There are critical aspects of our business that are known only by those out on the factory floor and cubicles throughout the organization. You will learn volumes through this type of interaction.

4. Be first with the truth. Beat the insurgents and malign actors to the headlines. Preempt rumors. Get accurate information to the chain of command, to Afghan leaders, to the people, and to the press as soon as possible. Integrity is critical to this fight. Avoid spinning, and don’t try to “dress up” an ugly situation. Acknowledge setbacks and failures, including civilian casualties, and then state how we’ll respond and what we’ve learned.

Business translation: Don’t spin the situation to your team or managers. Integrity is crucial in our internal operations and external sales and marketing process. Recognize and admit mistakes so that they can be quickly fixed and learned from. The public eventually learns of mistakes and rarely looks favorably at a response born from “getting caught”.

5. Exercise Initiative. In the absence of guidance or orders, figure out what the order should have been and execute them aggressively.

Business translation: Don’t wait to be told what to do. Take initiative and proceeding using your best judgement. Don’t be paralyzed by fear of making a mistake. If you do make a mistake, refer to #4.

About Mike Lake

Mike is the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Evergreen Trading. When not playing jazz trombone he is probably obsessing about writing content that will capture the attention and interest of business people and fellow learning junkies everywhere.

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