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Leadership Lessons from the Indian Army in Times of Covid-19 Pandemic

by Keerat

By Dr. Wasim Ghori – UK Alumni & Director – Healthcare, Indian Economic Trade Organization (IETO)

 

In today’s day and age, people effortlessly equate the intense cut-throat business environment to a battlefield and rightly so! In many ways, business is a battle of strategies, tactics, wits and character. This is where business leaders are like army or military leaders – they all fight for dominance and profit.

It is well known that there are several components of army training that can be vital in the corporate domain. There are numerous lessons that corporate leaders can learn from the army on motivation, team building, goal orientation and organizational culture.

Furthermore, Covid-19 Pandemic has brought testing times for all leaders, from those heading the country to those running small companies. With the economy under severe strain, there is enormous pressure on business leaders, big or small, because their future decisions will impact not only their survival but also of the hundreds and thousands who are employed by them.

Over the last couple of years, I was fortunate enough to meet and interact with the veterans and serving officers – mostly highly decorated armored regiments of the Indian Army.

The times that I spent interacting with officers, ranging in seniority from Lieutenants, Colonels, Majors with several years of service to highly decorated ex-Army Commanders with several decades of service, reinforced in me the belief that the Indian Armed Forces continues to be a premier establishment that regularly produces inspiring leaders and motivated followers.

Each one of the Army Officers articulated what lessons from army leadership can be applied to the business context and how to go about it. From their vast experiences, they shared on how corporate executives can leverage time-tested army practices to create lasting competitive advantage in the long term.

How business leaders can learn to tie individual goals with the organizational goals, resulting in a highly motivated and committed workforce, which, in turn, augments organizational efficiency and enhances employee productivity and retention.

Faced with crisis and uncertainty especially during Covid-19 Pandemic, we often dig into our past, to see if we had experienced a similar event, searching for answers in navigating through what appears to be an unchartered territory.

My thoughts during these periods of uncertainty due to Covid-19 frequently go back to my interactions with the Army Officers. The conversations with the Indian Army Officers helped me garner a vast amount of knowledge and skills from the army operations that are necessary for the soaring success of businesses and organizations during the Post Covid-19 Era.

 

Some key takeaways from my conversations with the Indian Army Officers include:

Keep an Eye on the Long-Term – in a crisis, the present can appear to overwhelm everyone. But good leaders must also keep an eye on long-term objectives because an excessive focus on the present can sometimes jeopardize the future.

Teamwork is Integral to Winning – in a crisis, give your subordinates responsibility, tell them that you have faith in them, and they will surprise you with the results.

Discipline, Expected in War but Mandatory in Peace – in peacetime, everything you notice around you in an army camp is spotless and in exactly the right place. Right from the uniforms, to the accommodations, mess halls and equipment. It reflects the pride that everyone feels in themselves, their unit and the men they serve with. The continuous drills, exercises and surprise checks are a constant reminder of the old adage “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war” and the fact that high standards need to be maintained consistently and without excuses.

Achieving the Mission is Everyone’s Responsibility – while the Commanding Officer typically leads from the front and takes responsibility for all losses, the sense of failure on not achieving the mission and letting each other down is shared equally by everyone. The unit introspects individually and as a team to analyze what could have been done differently and better!

Praise in Public, Admonish in Private – rarely will you see good officers berating a junior officer in public. There are rare occasions when they want to set an example to the rest of the unit, but typically one on one conversations are usually the norm and considered much more effective.

A Time for Strategy and a Time for Action – and the two don’t usually mix. Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
Respect is earned and lost every day – your past accomplishments only last so long. Every new mission is an opportunity to prove yourself and inspire everyone under your command.

Celebrating Small Successes – when coming out of a crisis, it is easy to clutch at small achievements to declare victory. It is not wrong to celebrate any success, but as is famously said in the army, you could win the battle but lose the war.

The current pandemic is perhaps the biggest challenge that India has faced in the recent history. In this time of uncertainty, there is but one certainty – leadership will play a key role. It is, therefore, important for all business leaders to define success carefully. Is it merely in their market recovery, or in the nurturing of employees, or in the creation of an organization that is shielded from future shocks?

An all these require fundamentally different approaches.

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