What the Commercial World Needs in its Leaders

Your leadership ‘skills’ are no longer your only currency in the commercial world. Inspiring trust and empowering your team are also highly valued qualities.

With clients that range from BT, NHS, Zain Bahrain to SMEs and start-ups, former officer Alex Firmin has experienced a variety of leadership styles, in his people development and leadership training career. However, there is one trend that he has seen continue to emerge among all of them.

The questions organisations ask themselves when they meet a potential candidate, no longer merely revolve around the ‘hard skills’ they can bring. Rather, they focus on – ‘is this the right person?’ ‘Are they a good fit?’ ‘Will they align with the company’s culture?’ And invariably, the emphasis is on demonstrating a more ethical style of leadership.

How do evolving ideas around leadership fit with current perceptions of the military?

Although awareness is growing of the positive contributions ex military can bring to organisations, Alex advises exercising some caution when talking about the topic.

Alex says: “There’s an expectation some kind of Ross Kemp character will come bursting in. People in organisations who have experience of ex-military at a senior level will need far less persuading of your value but there are some who may be more cynical.”

The stereotype of the Ross Kemp character, bulldozing in and ‘getting stuff done’ can be both a blessing and a curse. There is certainly a need for an operational, leadership military style within organisations today but there is still some wariness about how this will be delivered – will it be autocratic, overly directive and forever stagnating in the ‘commander phase?’

On the contrary, believes Alex.

He says: “Within the military culture, one of the principles of ‘Mission Command’ is that it’s down to the individual how they achieve the objectives. This takes a phenomenal amount of trust and is built through a common culture and shared values – qualities that are very sought after in the fast growing corporate sector.”

He adds: “The impeccable training you receive at Sandhurst, along with this sense of commonality, is developed very early. I’ve not witnessed anything quite like it in the corporate environment, as the bond is not there from the start. You expect people to follow the direction you’ve set but they don’t always, which can be frustrating.”

A culture of empowerment within the military

Alex also believes the culture of trust instilled within the military, empowers people to grow, take responsibility and make their own decisions. Organisations that put trust at the core of their business tend to succeed.

Alex says: “As a leader it’s also important to keep developing your team through succession planning so that when you inevitably move on, there is someone ready to fill your shoes.”

Alex also advises gaining a leadership qualification away from the military environment. He says: “I actively sought a course [The Strategic Leadership Programme at The University of York] where I could network away from the military environment.” He added: “I was the only military person on the course but found that my natural leadership skills were given a platform, and innately shone through, winning me some right friends in the right places’.

Listen to the webinar – What leadership means for business owners