Many know that West Point has produced some of the finest military leaders in U.S. history. But it might surprise you to know that many of the world’s most successful business leaders walked the halls of West Point, as well.
West Point is consistently ranked as a top college, including its business school. In addition to military leaders such as Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower, and Buzz Aldrin, West Point graduated the CEOs of companies such as DuPont, Sears, Pan Am Airways, Holiday Inn, Coca-Cola, AOL, the NY Stock Exchange, Office Max, Goodrich, 7-Eleven, Scott Paper and Sunbeam, Proctor and Gamble (where I had my first job) and many more.
As a graduate of West Point, I’ve found that I rely on the leadership lessons I learned there more than all the other education and training I’ve received since – including an MBA and Six-Sigma black belt.
What differentiates the leadership lessons I learned at West Point, and how do they apply to business leaders? Here are three experiences that I carry with me that I believe inform the leadership philosophies and practices of West Point-graduated business leaders – and can cause their organizations to be so successful.
1. Reporting to Upperclassmen Leaders
From your Day 1 Reception Day (known as R-Day) and throughout your first year (known as the Plebe year) you report to upperclassmen. Three other classes of recruits are testing out their leadership skills on you. During this “leadership crucible” you learn what causes you to be motivated and demotivated. From those lessons, you begin to learn how you will lead and how you will not lead – when the time comes. (Then you get 3 years to practice your leadership strategies on new Plebes).
2. Discovering Your Leadership Style
For most of us, our daily jobs can bring out the best and the worst in us. But these extremes are rarely as intense as what you’re put through – and what you’ll put your troops through – at West Point. Because you’ve experienced the two extremes, you learn how bad things can get – and how good they can get.
Ultimately, you learn that you can deal with both and survive. You come to know that everyone is made up of both good and bad. Learning to accept that your team members are both allows you to forego the drama, solve the problem, and move forward.
3. Learning to Make Decisions and Take Responsibility
At West Point, you learn quickly to make decisions and take personal responsibility for the outcomes of your decisions. In these days of matrix management, team decision-making, and committees—which are all good structures that can help to involve and engage your team members—there are still times when the leader has to step up, review all the possible scenarios, and make a decision without fear of taking ownership of whatever the results turn out to be.
The lesson learned is this: Recognize when the situation calls for the leader to decide – instead of putting another policy in place or calling another meeting to analyze and recommend action.
Applying Skills to Military Leadership and Business Leadership
The lessons from these experiences apply to business leadership as much as they do to military leadership.
If you bought or started a business, or if you rose to the senior or executive ranks in a large corporation, chances you suffered at the hands of a bad leader or two. You saw some extreme reactions. And you’ve made some bold, sometimes unpopular decisions. So you already know what I’m talking about.
Many business leaders have learned how to lead informally in a learn-as-you-go approach; the same way they learned how to be a parent. Business owners who haven’t been formally trained in leadership can benefit from working with a business coach who have been leadership-trained.
Inspire Results Business Coach Roger Engelau understands how effective leadership generates success. He holds a degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA. A veteran with 30 years of corporate leadership experience, he has coached hundreds of business owners and leaders to unprecedented success.