Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face
The worlds of business and warfare are often intertwined – how many times has Sun Tzu been quoted at us? – but few leaders can say that they’ve genuinely experienced both.
This month, we welcomed one of those impressive few to Engine HQ: Jason Fox, ex-British Special Forces Commander and star of Channel 4’s hit show, ‘SAS: Who Dares Wins’.
While many of us now know Jason as the tough-love, motivational leader from our screens, it’s been an intense journey to get to this point. Having joined the military at the age of sixteen – fuelled largely by a desire to get out of Luton – he quickly found the structure gave him clarity of purpose and direction that he’d been lacking. Even before knowing about visualisation as a tool, he kept his goals clear in his mind no matter how uncomfortable and difficult things got; a characteristic he’s maintained throughout his career.
Speaking to Emma Robertson, CEO of Engine Transformation, Jason shared some essential insights into what businesses can learn from the forces, as well as what it takes to develop emotional resilience within one of the most pressurised working environments on earth – war zones. Here are just a few…
Training is everything
In the business world, training is seen as a bonus and is often the first thing to go during budget cuts – yet it’s one of the core pillars for military success. While organisations can’t dedicate as much time to constant training, practical learning and development are essential components to any team. Look at what you need to undertake, then constantly train and adapt. By looking at everything that can go wrong and preparing for failure, you’ll be comfortable in situations when the plan falls apart and subconsciously able to face more stressful scenarios. Fail to prepare at your peril.
Experience informs everyone’s growth
Building on this foundation of training will help you change and pivot in the moment. From Jason’s experience, military operations feed into the training department and work in tandem. Following every mission or operation, all team members immediately debrief – with each leader individual sharing their experience. Crucially, this is not a witch hunt or a chance to point fingers, but rather an opportunity to identify what lessons have been learned. By sharing this information within units and a tightknit community, everyone can learn from mistakes and successes and a sense of community is strengthened.
Our preconceptions of military command may be correct – however, there’s more flexibility than you’d initially think. In an environment where everyone is highly trained as a leader, you have less to do! It’s only when something goes drastically wrong that you must make decisions, and this organic system leaves room to adapt in the moment. When everyone knows exactly what they’re doing there’s no need for debate, and when something fails the team naturally know what to change to fix it. Empower your team to react naturally and have the space to act on their intuition – if you’ve got the right foundation in place, your job as a leader will be much easier.
Get the right people in your team
Whatever world you operate in, there’s a tension of wanting the perfect recruit who follows orders while still showing initiative. Look to have elements of the best and worst in everyone in your team; it pays to have someone be slightly rogue at times. You need to be challenged by someone who’s willing to question when you’ve approached an issue from the wrong angle – and it creates a better environment for everyone.
Motivation can come naturally
Brands have a slight disadvantage when it comes to motivation – corporate teams don’t generally have opponents trying to kill them after all – but it’s not that hard to cultivate the right environment. Even when the stakes are lower, it all comes down to engagement; if you invest your time in your team, they’ll invest back. Loyalty breeds trust and colleagues will feel that you’re on their side on a subconscious level when they see how you approach them.
Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the face
We hear about buy-in all the time, but it’s impossible to overstate the importance of being unified in purpose. In missions, teams are focused on the brief at every stage of planning – at a unit and individual level – so even if something doesn’t go according to plan, the purpose drives action. If you know what your goals are, the rest will follow.
Don’t just pay wellbeing lip-service
In the past, wellbeing was a buzzword issue approached with a ‘one size fits all’ approach. When the tempo of operations is intense, it’s easy to simply focus on delivery. But without investing in your team’s health and wellbeing, your outputs are destined to fail. Remember that you live in a world of individuals where not everyone has the same needs – develop a system that can take care of what’s needed and always strives to do better. Give experiences the respect they deserve, and they can be used as a positive learning tool.
Jason himself has seen what happens when organisations fail to acknowledge the importance of wellbeing – having previously been a non-believer of PTSD and depression in a military context, it took experiencing it himself to accept their existence.
Training resilience is a constant process
Emotional endurance is something that’s built over time and the training requires looking internally and acknowledging emotions. Give them the respect they deserve; don’t let them take charge, but recognise them and why they’re happening. You can either turn that emotion into a negative (and become a ‘flapping headless chicken’) or slow down and start concentrating on what to do. This is what resilience really is – turning emotions into a positive tool and not letting them control you.
Stay honest with yourself
When it comes to Jason’s greatest life lesson – other than getting out of Luton – it’s all about honesty. There’s no use in lying to yourself or pretending to be someone else, as it just causes pain. Take a moment to reassess who you are and what you want to do in life – and stick to it.
Want the full story? You can listen to the full interview with Jason and Emma here – and don’t forget to watch out for our Engine podcast which launches soon!