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10 Lessons from America's Greatest Military Leaders

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10 Lessons from America's Greatest Military Leaders

In Afghanistan, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal was focused on one thing: devising the best plan of attack. But he knew he couldn’t do it alone. So like any good leader, he assembled a core team of trustworthy people who believed in his vision and relied on them heavily to get the job done.

"Even though he was a four-star general, he would still listen to what significantly lower-ranking people had to say,” says Chad Storlie, a retired U.S. Army Reserve Special Forces officer and author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader (ABC CLIO, 2010). "His team had a very open way of communicating: they would read a mission, debate it internally, consider different viewpoints and then figure out the best way to approach it."

Entrepreneurs can learn from McChrystal’s skillful tactics -- recruiting a dedicated team is the keystone to becoming a successful leader. It turns out, many valued military talents transfer well to guiding a team through the ups and downs of launching and growing a business. 

Here are 10 tips for business owners gleaned from the lives of America's greatest military leaders. 

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George Washington
George Washington

1732-1799

Rank: General

Military branch: Continental Army

Lesson: Trust your core team.

The Continental Army never numbered more than 35,000 men, and Washington never had more than a third of it under his personal command, yet he and his men managed to subdue Great Britain’s professional army.

As an early-stage entrepreneur, your team will be small, but with trustworthy people in place and proper coaching, you can better compete with the big guys.

Quote: “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well-tried before you give them your confidence.”  

Winfield Scott
Winfield Scott

1786-1866

Rank: General-in-Chief

Military branch: U.S. Army

Lesson: Never compromise.

Scott's insistence on military appearance and discipline earned him the nickname “Old Fuss and Feathers.” During the Civil War, his Anaconda Plan for strangling the South by keeping it from its sources of supply was first sneered at by Union generals. But the plan was later adopted by Lincoln and turned out to be the overriding strategy that eventually won the war.

Even if some people don’t believe in your business vision, it’s important to keep your team focused on the long-term goal. If you’re confident, don’t be derailed by naysayers.

Quote: “Peace won by compromise is usually a short-lived achievement.” 

Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee

1807-1870

Rank: General

Military branch: U.S. Army

Lesson: Respect your team.

Lee was widely adored by his men. In victory and defeat, they witnessed his great strength of character, his high sense of duty, his humility and selflessness. Even Northerners accepted Lee as the greatest general of the Civil War.

When you respect your employees, they will respect you. A happy team is a productive team, and when people believe in their leader, they’ll go to war for him.

Quote: “The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.”

Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant

1822-1885

Rank: General

Military branch: U.S. Army

Lesson: Don’t give up.

Grant made mistakes and learned from them. His drive and resolution made him a first-class general. During the Civil War, President Lincoln rewarded Grant with a promotion to lieutenant general and made him general-in-chief of the armies. Instead of establishing an office in Washington, he took the field with the struggling Army of the Potomac.

As an entrepreneur, you will make mistakes, but it’s how you learn from them that will define your success as a leader.

Quote: "One of my superstitions has always been when I start to go anywhere or do anything, not to turn back, or stop until the thing intended was accomplished.” 

George S. Patton
George S. Patton

1885-1945

Rank: General

Military branch: U.S. Army

Lesson: Help your team achieve greatness.

Patton earned the reputation of having a uniquely gifted military mind, immense energy and a penchant for being blunt. During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, when the German Ardennes Offensive threatened to swallow up a surrounded American division at Bastogne, Patton pushed his men through mud and snow and relieved Bastogne on Dec. 26, 1944.

Good leaders help their people achieve greatness, even during hardships. It’s important to push your employees to meet their goals and advance their career.

Quote: "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity." 

Lewis B. 'Chesty' Puller
Lewis B. 'Chesty' Puller

1898-1971

Rank: Lieutenant General

Military branch: U.S. Marine Corps

Lesson: Stay positive.

The most decorated marine in history, Puller’s service spanned four decades. He led marines in 19 campaigns and some of the most critical battles of the 20th century. Puller is most remembered by his fellow marines for his quick-witted encouragement in the midst of combat.

In the face of adversity, you have to stay calm and positive. If you lose it, your team will follow suit -- tenfold.

Quote: "All right, they're on our left, they're on our right, they're in front of us, they're behind us...they can't get away this time."

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower

1890-1969

Rank: General

Military branch: U.S. Army

Lesson: Create a cooperative culture.

Eisenhower had a way of saying the right thing to gain people’s cooperation, and his strong personality and good nature inspired trust, according to the U.S. Army of Military History. He was regarded as a natural leader who looked for ways to smooth over disputes and organize his men’s efforts toward a common goal.

When your staff is all on the same page, working together, your business will reap the benefits.

Quote: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Dudley 'Mush' Morton
Dudley 'Mush' Morton

1907-1943

Rank: Lieutenant Commander

Military branch: U.S. Navy

Lesson: Keep everyone motivated.

Morton’s feisty and daring nature led him to command one the U.S. Navy’s most fierce war ships of all time, the USS Wahoo. Former Wahoo sailor, Chief Yeoman Forrest Sterling said, “When I first met Commander Morton it only took me one minute to realize that I would follow that man to the bottom of the ocean if necessary. Mush was a true leader of men and knew his business inside and out.”

If your employees don’t believe in you and your vision, you’ll have a tough road ahead. Make sure everyone knows what’s in it for him or her in the long run.

Quote: “Tenacity, Dick, stay with the bast*rd ‘til he's on the bottom.” --Mush Morton to fellow sub commander Dick O'Kane

Eugene B. Fluckey
Eugene B. Fluckey

1913-2007

Rank: Rear Admiral

Military branch: U.S. Navy

Lesson: Recognize your hard workers.

Fluckey thought very highly of his men and was known as one of America’s most daring submarine commanders of World War II. As the skipper of the submarine Barb in the Pacific from April 1944 to August 1945, he was known for inventive tactics. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross four times for his heroism.

Once you find a good team, be sure to dole out credit and tout their achievements. A little recognition goes a long way.

Quote: “What wordy praise can one give such men as these; men who…follow unhesitatingly when in the vicinity of minefields so long as there is the possibility of targets…Men who will fight to the last bullet and then start throwing the empty shell cases. These are submariners.”  

H. Norman Schwarzkopf
H. Norman Schwarzkopf

1934-

Rank: General

Military branch: U.S. Army

Lesson: Get in the trenches.

Schwarzkopf had a reputation as an officer who would risk anything for the soldiers under his command. When he heard word that some of his men had encountered a minefield in Vietnam, Schwarzkopf rushed to the scene in his helicopter. After being wounded himself by an explosion, he eventually led his surviving soldiers to safety.

As an entrepreneur you have to dig in on the front lines, right alongside your team. You will get the best work from your people if you’re willing to stick out your neck for them.

Quote: “It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.” 

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