Developing Elite Corporate Cultures

I have recently revised the approach I take to speaking and consulting on leadership.

Over the last 18 months, I have been applying my experience and lessons learned working with elite military units to the challenges of leadership in the corporate sector.  My experience leading a graduate program focused on Global Leadership in University of San Diego’s School of Business Administration has also informed my insights into the business side of that equation.  

After speaking and leading seminars on what I called ‘Commando Leadership,’ I realized that in fact I was speaking more on how great leaders develop and sustain strong teams, rather than on leadership ‘techniques’ per se.  I was also recently made aware of a point of confusion in the title ‘Commando Leadership:’  I was told that some in my audience thought of ‘commando’ in the context of ‘going commando,’ and were looking forward to hearing a retired Navy SEAL talk about leadership without underwear.  Hmmmm…. maybe I should explore the potential in that approach too! 

‘Developing an Elite Corporate Cultures’ feels right to me –  much better than Commando Leadership. Retitling the presentations I offer to Vistage International, and shifting my focus to how leaders build, influence and sustain a winning team is a much more appealing topic for me.  That, in my mind, is the art of great leadership, and it requires different approaches with different people, within different corporate cultures and in different contexts.  I am quite familiar with the formula that works for elite military ‘commando’ units – and the similarities between ‘commando’ units such as the SEALs, Green Berets, Delta Force, Marine Recon, as well as Fighter Pilots and other ‘elite’ units are much more striking than the differences.  Though the corporate world is indeed different, my experience is that aggressive, competent, and ambitious people seek many of the same things in any contexts – they want to be challenged, they want opportunities to grow, and they want to do so within a winning ‘tribe.’   They want to believe in themselves, their colleagues and what they’re doing.  They want what Daniel Pink in his book Drive referred to as  autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Great leadership taps into this primal source of energy, and feeds it.  Poor leadership at best ignores it, at worst, actively suppresses and undermines it. 

Elite military units and elite corporate teams share many common qualities. I am looking forward to continuing to build the bridge between these two cultures – and helping each to learn from the other.