Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Student Led Forum - Military Leadership

One of the best things about being at Kellogg is being surrounded by a group of extremely talented individuals. However, often we do not take full advantage of this diversity to learn from them, broaden our own perspectives. To this end, the Business Leadership Club at Kellogg started a new series called the Student Led Forum series.

The first in this batch was a panel called ‘Lessons in Military Leadership.’ The panel consisted of five people who served in the various branches of the armed forces - Army, Navy and Air Force, both in and outside US. And I have to say, after listening to the panel, I definitely left inspired.

The panel discussed the style of Leadership in the Armed Forces. Rank definitely plays a big part, and you are trained to listen to your superiors. However, what works even better is Servant Leadership. “Officers Eat Last” rings true in the armed forces. When food is served, soldiers go and eat first, and the officers eat what is left over.

Another key aspect of Leadership in the Armed Forces was leading by example, and aligning incentives. The only international army officer, Jeff (from the Israel Navy) gave us an example of this. He was faced with the task of motivating several soldiers who were nearing the end of their term of their time in the forces, and wanted to get back home as soon as possible. In order to inspire them, he first of all led by example, doing some of the ‘dirty work’ himself. Second, he laid out a plan such that once they did the initial setup, the soldiers could come in just once a week to maintain it, and as long as they did the work, they were free to spend the rest of the time at home.

The one thing that came up several times in the panel was how well most people in the armed forces perform under pressure. Whether it is coming under enemy fire, or a submarine flooding, people just put their heads down and get things done. A lot of this is to do with training of two kinds. First, repeated training of exactly the right steps to follow when faced with an emergency. For example, if there is a fire – run TOWARDS it. Who in their right mind would do that, unless being trained over and over again, to do so? The second type of training was on dealing with ambiguous situations, and making a decision and taking action, even with limited information.

Of course, no panel with the armed forces would be complete without some real war stories. On being asked about the scariest moments, one of the panelists said “Well, there was this one time in Iraq that a roadside bomb went off and blew away the front half of my truck, and I was left with my legs hanging out, luckily, completely unharmed. That was a bit scary. Compared to that, other emergencies, like interviews or assignment deadlines don’t seem that scary anymore.”

The panel left me extremely inspired, and feeling lucky to be surrounded by such an accomplished class. Next up – Student Led Forum - Leadership in Software Engineering!


  1. Woah! Great post. Now I'm wishing that I had made it to this presentation.

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