Developing and implementing your key leadership skills.

Updated: Aug 25

For a good leader to succeed, one must be prepared to make decisions that have a positive impact on him- or herself and, if need be, a team or company. Decision-making for me was learnt at a young age when making the decision on my own to join the Army. I felt confident that the decision I was making was the right one, and even when looking back, I know it was.

I went on to learn a hell of a lot during my service and always looked at others in regards to the way they made decisions. Granted, this was mainly all military-related, but there were some elements of that that I knew would benefit me outside of military operations, so it became my platform for leadership learning.

I started to learn leadership at an early age when I began basic training for the Army. It started with simple things, such as maintaining a head count for my platoon amidst chaos or making sure my team was on time for a parade. In the private sector, where you might be working for a growing company, it is critical for leaders to lead by example.

This means following the processes and procedures outlined by the company, not breaking promises, and not asking anything of anyone that you are not willing to do yourself. In combat, as in with business, the best leaders lead from the front, get their hands dirty, and show their team that they are willing to do what it takes in order to accomplish the mission.

In the military, leaders aren’t born; they are made. That is no exaggeration: the armed forces invest well in those who they believe can become good leaders. In battle, leaders must make very serious decisions, often based on little-to-no information for which there may be no time for verification.

This is a worst-case scenario when it comes to leadership, but it’s one that has allowed me to build the foundation of learning; not only learning what it was all about but also everything that it entailed and what was expected of me. Military leadership plays such an important role when the troops are sent to handle conflict. Without it, operations will fail.

Troops will have no central coordination handled by a good strong leader, whether it a Section Commander or up the chain to the Commanding Officer, meaning that leader must be there to lead. ‘Business as usual’ doesn’t occur on the battlefield, and so being a unique and confident leader is paramount to mission success.

No good leader assumes they know everything, and the best ones surround themselves with incredible talent of varying types and degrees. The success of any sports team, military unit or business unit, for example, doesn’t only come from great leadership and management; rather, it comes from excellent team members and a collaborative environment. It’s important to provide parameters and to then allow the team to operate somewhat autonomously within those boundaries, which fosters creativity, empowerment, and a sense of ownership when goals are accomplished. And then, of course, acknowledging team members for hard work is fundamental.

In the military, blood, sweat and tears is a part of the job, and recognition for that is not usually given—nor is it expected; in the real-world, however, recognition is an important part of good leadership and in maintaining high levels of morale. In the military, soldiers earmarked for leadership roles are provided with training before being thrust into the firing line.

In the case of organizations, on the other hand, staff are rarely given the learning and development needed to allow them to excel in a more senior role. For military leaders, an error in judgement can have fatal consequences. In the business world, the stakes are much lower, with a bad decision potentially resulting in a profit slump or share price drop. The fallout for military personnel is potentially far greater.

I’ve worked with people across the globe in the business sector, and I’ve protected corporate executives, high net worth families and members of foreign royalty; I have been fortunate enough to have learned something about leadership from each of them. I’ve sat in on some of the world’s biggest corporate meetings and events and learned many different approaches to leadership from the top executives of some of the largest companies in the world. Each executive I’ve worked with has adopted a different approach to leadership, but it’s those different approaches that have enabled me to fine-tune an art of leadership that works for me, and which benefits those I’ve worked with across the globe.

A small number of those for whom I’ve worked, like me, had combat experience from the military; most did not, however. Many had a fine education behind them of course, while I did not, yet I was able to mix in business and social circles where I had the opportunity to meet others who were leaders, too.

What I found as a common denominator, however, was that most had developed a list of principles of leadership from which they work; this is something I’d put together for myself when I first started out as a close protection officer, though it was the military that helped me to understand and execute them. As such, although we were all leaders in our respective fields, the one thing we had in common was our list of principles. Some had them written down, whilst most, like me, had them instilled in them. It’s just a part of our lives; part of our make-up.

Today, some thirty-plus years since leaving home at the age of sixteen as a nervous teenager, I’ve been able to work to my own guiding principles, which I’ve subsequently carried through everything that I’ve done. Mine combine motivation and leadership—things that are ingrained in my mind and in everything I do. I refer to this as ‘The Military Mindset’, which is something I know works for me.

You can create your own shortlist to work from, which can act as your own guiding principles that can help to push and encourage you, or which provide a starting point from where you can grow to become a strong and effective leader. No matter the challenges I’ve faced, whether in the past or those to come in the future, I will always try and stick to my principles on leadership and motivation and have found such an approach to be helpful.

You can, of course, ask others to help you put a similar list together, but remember that it’s not their job to make sure you stick to them. You’ll have bad days, you’ll have good days, and you’ll have so-so days which might not offer much motivation, but in order to be a good leader you need to maintain that positive mindset and motivation at all times. Remember that you are leading, meaning people are looking to you for guidance, for encouragement, for drive and for passion.

If you have a negative day and you show it, you can bet those you are supposed to be leading will be feeling it as well, no matter the size of your organization or company. You could be the head of a small dental practice or the CEO of a multi-national company, and still leadership will be paramount to your company and to your team’s success.

You need to know your principles inside-out, and the more you start to really get your head into it, the easier you’ll find self-motivation—and that’s exactly where y ou need to be. Being a leader is great, but being a motivated leader who stick s to his own principles is admired greatly, in the corporate world especially, regardless of whether or not you come from the military.

The Military Mindset:

  • Pay Attention: Leave no stone unturned with absorbing information. Identify good leaders within your personal or business life and aspire to be better than them.

  • Be a Solid Team Player: To be a good leader, you first need to understand the importance of what or who you are leading. Communicate well, respect others, and ensure you are a team player always.

  • Lead by Example: When you do something, you’ve most likely got others watching you. Have the mindset of leading by example, it’s attractive and admirable when done with confidence.

  • Take the Initiative: This applies to all that you do with both your personal and business goals. Be confident in your ability to take the initiative, raise your hand or take the lead.

  • Attention to Detail: When you do something, do it at 150%, always. Success is attained by putting your all into everything that you do to make sure that nothing is missed.

  • Accept Challenges: Create your own or take them on, either way, you smash them. You should grow to reach the point of accepting all challenges that are in front of you.

  • Overcome your Fears: You can live with your fears or you can attack them and grow. Remember, without fear, there cannot be courage to overcome any fears that you have or will have.

There are a number of things that bring good leadership to light, and these come in many forms. I’ve found that, in order to be a good and respected leader, there is a need to have integrity. A leader can be well-liked and popular, and even competent, which is all well and good, but if he or she lacks integrity of character, they are not fit to be a leader.

When integrity is questioned, you’ve asked for it yourself. Character and integrity are not something you can bullshit people about for too long. The people with whom a person works—especially subordinates—will soon know whether or not a person has integrity. A person may be forgiven for a lot of things, such as incompetence, ignorance, insecurity or bad manners, but they will not be forgiven for a lack of integrity.

Another key fundamental of leadership is establishing the ins and outs of your area of expertise. This might seem obvious, but some managers do try to cut corners rather than mastering the knowledge they must have, and that is essential to the quality of performance. Leadership rests on being able to do something others cannot do at all or that they may otherwise find difficult to do, and so there is a need to get it down, nail it, and show that your leadership skills are driven by your knowledge.

One of the things I’ve learnt, which is extremely important to companies and to leaders, is to show commitment. All too often, I’ve seen individuals, teams, operations and missions fail as a result of a lack of commitment from those involved. You’ve got to be absolutely committed to all that you do: if you’re not, then why are you even there? I’ve been around people who aren’t committed and, to be honest, it’s distasteful and negative. I’ve never wanted to be around that—and I’ve actually walked away from a couple of jobs when I’ve come to realize that some didn’t have the same commitment as I did.

Commitment and sound leadership are paramount in all that we do if we strive for success.