From the Battlefield to Business: 3 Leadership Principles for Cultivating Company Culture
The captain sets the culture that leads the team toward victory or defeat.
While entrepreneurship can be lonely, no one makes it entirely on their own. Even the most brilliant minds are backed by their teams, large or small. After all, who would Steve Jobs have been were it not for the genius minds at Apple executing on his ideas? Business is a team sport, and every team needs a strong captain to exhibit necessary leadership. The captain sets the culture that leads the team toward victory or defeat. In business, the company culture you establish as a leader will drive everything from employee morale to performance and overall growth.
According to former U.S. Army Ranger turned author, entrepreneur and leadership coach Jeramiah Solven, “There are poor, good and great leaders. Great leaders have the ability to create unparalleled buy-in and, in turn, create powerful cultures,” Solven says. "Culture is an extremely effective force. When you have the ability to create it, you can align everyone to one singular direction and accomplish the unimaginable.”
Creating company culture is about creating a “why” that inspires the highest standards of quality, efficiency and self-sustainability at every level of your operation. Inspired by his experiences as a U.S. Ranger, Solven takes his cues on business leadership from the battlefield mentality. When you focus on the culture and the process, “the score takes care of itself,” he says. “Excellence is achieved by focusing on the process, not the end result.” Whether you’re hitting an enemy objective or a quarterly sales goal, your team’s performance in pivotal moments depends entirely upon the culture and identity that have been adopted and integrated into daily practices.
While leadership is never one-size-fits-all, here are three core leadership principles for creating a solid company culture.
1. Be present where presence is needed.
Being an entrepreneur often means wearing many different hats, but it more often means learning to prioritize wherever it is that you’re truly needed. “Your placement as a leader has a profound effect on the organization and on the outcome of the mission,” says Solven. “It’s true in the military, and it’s true in business.” A platoon leader may not be on the front line of fire but is close enough to still call the shots. Similarly, as a business leader, you have to discern where your attention and physical presence are most required.
“I think a lot of people fail in business with that now because they want to rely on technology,” explains Solven. “They want to do virtual meetings, they want to do remote working, and that stuff’s effective because you can do a lot and not waste time. But there’s something to be said about putting yourself in the right position as a leader.” Showing your face around the office gives your team an energizing presence to rally behind. Where your physical presence is not absolutely necessary, learn to delegate. By having thoroughly trained supervisors and periodic check-ins to touch base, you maintain effective leader placement by ensuring that your presence is always felt — even in your physical absence.
2. Use unrestricted force in everything you do.
To maximize effectiveness as a leader, create a company culture built upon violence of action, which means using unrestricted speed, surprise and strength to dominate the enemy. “The Rangers I served with were some of the most aggressive and professional men I have ever known,” says Solven. “They taught me everything about being mentally tough, mastering your craft and chasing excellence.” It’s about callusing the mind by approaching every new challenge or enemy with vigor. In business, the enemy can be a competing company or even stagnant sales. The point is to reach your fullest potential by diving in with both feet — and getting everyone in your operation to do the same.
Author Neal Shusterman said, “I’d rather be partly great than entirely useless.” In other words, better to commit fully and fall short of your goal rather than never committing at all. According to Solven, “A lot of people go one-foot-in with a lot of things. What I learned in the military is, if you want to win in a gunfight, you go all in. You don’t want to kind of win in a gunfight. You want to absolutely win so that everybody comes home alive. The same rule applies to anything that you’re after in business.” Violence of action culture is the difference between an employee doing the bare minimum and one who goes above and beyond, between the person who does what they can and the person who does what it takes. As a leader, model violence of action for your team every day by taking risks, being decisive and committing to your work.
3. Use the Badmuthers mindset: Never quit. Ever.
Remember that your vision as a leader stretches much further and wider than that of your team. In tough times, they will look to you for reassurance, even when you’re scared out of your mind. This is why every leader should develop a Badmuthers mindset. Inspired by his Ranger platoon, the Badmuthers, Solven conceived of the “Badmuthers mindset” to describe the relentless spirit that he and his team embodied. This steadfast, unstoppable energy carried these soldiers through challenges and environments that proved fatal to others, yet the Badmuthers Platoon prevailed, time and time again. Why? The culture of “we don’t quit” was etched so solidly into their bones that no time or energy was wasted on fear or hesitation. As a leader, when you adopt this mentality and instill it in your team, efforts turn from doom and gloom toward solutions.
How do you get an entire operation to adopt the same mindset? By example, acknowledgement, reward and repetition. Observe existing operations to see what works and what doesn’t. Reward behaviors that are in line with company culture (and penalize those that are not). Finally, repeat these principles with your team until they become second nature.
Establishing a company culture gives your team a sense of identity and a sense of community. The Badmuthers mindset keeps Solven and his platoon members bonded to this day. “I owe every leadership lesson that I have today to the men I served with," Solven says. "I was very privileged to be surrounded by great leaders who taught me how to create other high-quality leaders and cultures that win.”
When you know what you stand for as the leader and make that message plain to your staff, they know what it means to work for you and what it means to work for your company. They begin to take pride in being not a cog in a machine but a member of a movement with a greater aim. Culture is about infusing purpose into everything, and when done right, that purpose is felt from internal operations all the way down to your customers. Culture counts, always.