Home BUSINESS Lessons corporate leaders need to learn from warfare

Lessons corporate leaders need to learn from warfare

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There are no runners up in warfare. Either you are a winner or you do not exist. The ‘Baptism by Fire’ in armed forces is always hands-on and does not permit any second chance to improve your performance. When the risks of losing are so irretrievably high and we are not only playing with our own life but with the lives of hundreds of soldiers, whom we lead to victory, it’s axiomatic that the planning is foolproof, well-rehearsed and executed ruthlessly by well-trained soldiers. The margin of error in warfare is almost non-existent.

In present times and age, the corporate world has also grown into an intense competition, where all businesses must plan perfectly, implement ruthlessly and control ‘hands-on’ as per the emerging contours of the market. To be able to survive and thrive, strategic planning and leadership like that of the Army becomes the most substantial tools for any enterprise. Therefore, we must learn some lessons from warfare to succeed in the fiercely competitive cut-throat corporate world. Some important lessons from Warfare for Corporate World are highlighted hereafter.


The planning process for battles is very detailed. A democratic way of discussion is held during planning, wherein everyone is free to express his view, criticize other’s plans and find innovative methods to achieve victory. Thereafter, the decision of the final plan is with the leader and once the decision is taken, every soldier assumes ownership of the plan and puts all his might to make it a success.  

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The army believes that no plan survives the first engagement, howsoever brilliant it is. Changes have to be incorporated after the enemy faces the first offensive and counters it. Contingency planning is an essential ingredient of all battle plans. Hence plans have to be flexible and should have multiple planned contingencies for all possible setbacks.

In the corporate world, detailed planning and ownership of plans are missing.  In some good enterprises, employees are carefully instructed and made to rehearse their roles. Such organisations are far more likely to succeed and effectively execute a strategy. Preparing for multiple emergencies during execution means there are fewer unexpected outcomes. Detailed planning for contingencies is the most important lesson that the corporate world needs to learn from warfare.


Decision making is the most important virtue of any military commander. Decisions have to be made under a certain amount of uncertainty and risk, called the FOG OF WAR. In all situations – good or bad whatever they might eventually turn out to be — decisions cannot be delayed. Instant decision making is the virtue of Military Leadership. On the battlefield, speed and boldness are more important than perfection. Indecisiveness can be a fatal flaw. An average decision taken on time can carry the day while a brilliant decision that came late would result in defeat. The key is to pre-empt the enemy.

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In the corporate world, the decisions are either based on a hunch, without evaluating the uncertainties and risks or inordinately delayed. Weak leadership is indecisive and therefore, keep delaying the decision due to fear of failure. Delayed decisions result in delayed projects, cost overruns, increased overheads and consequent penalties.


Once the plan is made, the same is rehearsed in as actual a setting as possible. Rehearsals and simulation of actual battle conditions are essentials for success since warfare will never give you chance again. Success has to be guaranteed and hence all efforts are made towards a 100% guarantee of success.  Nowadays, simulators are available for real-time rehearsals of missions before they are launched.

Training and upgrading your skills is essential in the armed forces. The army believes in sending its officers back to school to keep them abreast with the latest in war-fighting. A high-flying officer goes to top-notch defence colleges every two to three years. Similarly, visiting a classroom is also equally essential for all levels of leadership in the corporate world.

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Unfortunately, in the business world, training is generally confined to a welcome orientation only. Mentorship to employees is usually nonexistent or limited to informal arrangements made locally.  Entrepreneurs and business leaders must take a clue from the military and help employees and organizations to upgrade, improve and grow as part of professional development.


War is a costly hobby. War inevitably, comes with an enormously high cost, both in terms of life and property. It causes irreversible damage and sets warring nations back economically by decades. In Armed Forces, judicious allocation of resources is done prior to battle, as per the task envisaged. It’s always advisable to keep a 25% reserve for contingencies because the plans are bound to be modified.

In the civil world, it is often seen that well-conceived projects keep languishing for years for want of funds/resources. As a result, they become highly cost-ineffective and finally shelved for no longer being economically viable.

In both worlds, the cost factor is pivotal today. It is thus axiomatic to infer that achieving victory at minimal cost is the greatest challenge today.  Victory at all costs will not be acceptable in future wars, considering the precious value of men and material. Similarly, working in the business world, every penny must be saved while achieving targets.


Discipline and punctuality is the key to success. In the battle, the synchronized application of various firepower systems really devastates the enemy. This synchronization is carried out to the ‘minutes’ and   ‘seconds’.   Punctuality and discipline to strictly adhere to laid down timings and plans is the key to success in warfare. Similar, punctuality and discipline are key ingredients of any corporate enterprise that has to make a niche for itself. Delivery of quality services at the given time is the hallmark of a great organization that wishes to grow and enhance its image. Today, the business world is also teaching its employees to be punctual and disciplined, like Army.


The Army has the highest level of motivation where the team members are motivated to do or die for the country. The army believes that money can’t bind an individual to an organization. The ethos, work culture and scope to achieve satisfaction are more important. In the Army, the system of motivation is not based on monetary considerations. Esprit de corps, camaraderie, regimental pride, act as motivators. Achievement of victory, in warfare,   is only possible through the highest levels of motivation.


On any battlefield teamwork is the key to success. No individual arm or service howsoever powerful can achieve victory on its own. Teamwork is an extremely vital complement of military leadership, which provides the bonding factor as well as the stimulant for complete and motivating teamwork.  It’s an integrated team that achieves success by the synergy of its resources and strengths. Cohesive teamwork is a must for any subunit or unit to succeed in battle. The concept today is to form Integrated Battle Groups, consisting of all arms and services, customized for success.

In the corporate world, motivation and teamwork remain some of the most underrated and underutilized workplace tactics. The Corporate world will do well to assign challenging tasks to integrated teams of task-oriented, well-motivated dynamic leaders to achieve the ‘Beyond The Horizon’ targets. Opportunities can only be exploited through effective teamwork.  The esprit-de-corps is the fibre that binds the team together. Remember, it’s always ‘WE’ and not ‘I’ at the top.


In the Armed forces, the war does not end after every victory. The forces don’t stop after capturing an objective but go for the complete kill and relentlessly pursue the withdrawing the enemy till they surrender or lose the will to fight after a crushing defeat.

Similarly, the corporate world would do well to lay down the definition of success and shift the goalposts periodically. Let’s not be satisfied by achieving the target but go beyond as often said- “Dil Mange More”.


These are just a few lessons that the corporate world can learn from warfare and imbibe to achieve targets and goals. Military leaders are committed to modelling high values, building trust, focusing on results, and motivating others by setting personal examples.

Defence officers have been very successful in the corporate world. Research has proved that CEOs, who served in the military, are up to 70 % less likely to engage in corporate fraud compared to their non-veteran peers. 

Research also revealed that companies led by CEOs with military experience have performed much better than their competitors when evaluated over a time frame of 10 years.

According to another survey, around 8% of the Forbes Fortune 500 companies are run by CEOs who have previously served in the armed forces.

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Maj. Gen. C P Singh
Maj Gen C P Singh is a scholar soldier accredited with MA, MSc, LLB, MBA, M Phil (Def Mgt.) and M Phil. (International Strategic Affairs). An avid reader and prolific writer, he is a Social Activist, Career Consultant and Motivational Speaker.


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