Military vs Business vs Academia Leadership

December 3, 2009 — Leave a comment

Leadership, you know it when you see it. Or do you?

The recent Afghanistan decision by President Obama has highlighted something that very few people actually get exposure to. What different leadership styles and approaches look like. I have been blessed by having the opportunity to lead and be mentored by leaders in all three settings, so I understand the differences, strength and weaknesses inherent in each approach.

Most of us develop our leadership style early in our career and stick with that approach, never realizing there are other approaches that may be better.

I share my experience in each of these areas with you in hopes that you’ll better understand the difference between the three distinct styles, and it opens your view to alternative ways to lead.

Military: We all know what military leadership looks like. Just watch Paton, George C. Scott nails it. Leaders are trained to be decisive and take action to achieve an objective. In the Air Force, it was to drop bombs on target. Period. The target may be tactical or strategic, but if we missed the target the mission failed. Failed missions are attributed to leadership. There’s always urgency. Lives are on the line. Our country may fail. The stakes are high and command and control is required and admired.

Business: We know what business leaders look like. We see them in the media. Steve Jobs an innovation leader. Warren Buffet, bazillions of dollars. Business leaders make money leveraging people and resources. By leading their teams effectively, the business grows and is profitable. There’s a clear measurement – profit. If a company is not profitable, it is a reflection on the leadership.

Academia: Now we’re into a world very few actually ever experience. Academia leaders are thinkers. They ask thoughtful questions that require thoughtful answers. The leaders who rise to the top understand how to play the long game in everything they do. They wait for their plans to unfold and stay the course through every roadblock. They pick their battles carefully, analyze every side, think about it. That said, once a decision is made, it is made and execution takes place.

Differences: Business leaders believe that neither academia nor military leaders know how to make money. The others believe that the only thing business leaders care about is making money. Academic leaders believe that military leaders react too quickly without thinking through the consequences of their actions. Military leaders believe academia leaders “dither” in making decisions.

All three leadership styles value execution. They are very different in motivators and reasoning, but in the end, my experience has been that they all get things done. I have been privileged to have been exposed to all three leadership types. I suggest that a blend of the three is the best approach.

What is your default leadership style? What can you learn and apply from the other leadership styles?


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