Imagine staring up the infinite blue sky from the bottom of a missile silo, a Minuteman ICBM standing sentinel above you. Just six months ago, your biggest decision was which beer to grab at the frat party. Now, you’re a Lieutenant Colonel, entrusted with millions of dollars in equipment and the lives of seasoned airmen who’ve served longer than you’ve been alive. This is the crucible of military leadership, a pressure cooker that forges leaders unlike any other.

Art Landro, CEO of Sencha, knows this experience intimately. A former Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, he traded fighter jets for web apps, but the leadership lessons learned in the sky still fuel his success on the ground. His story is a beacon for any aspiring leader, civilian or veteran, yearning to build a team that soars.

Lesson 1: Focus on the Mission. In the military, there’s no “quiet quitting.” Your oath binds you to a purpose greater than yourself, a collective mission that transcends individual pay checks. Landro translates this to the business world, urging leaders to articulate a clear, compelling vision that ignites passion and unites the team. This isn’t just about profits; it’s about making a difference, leaving a legacy, and inspiring your team to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Lesson 2: Take Care of Your People. A strong team is not built on fear or hierarchy, but on trust and mutual respect. Landro learned this in the Air Force, where a pilot crashing meant losing not just an asset, but a comrade. In business, this translates to nurturing talent, providing the right tools and training, and empowering individuals to take ownership. Remember, sometimes “taking care” means making tough decisions, like removing someone who hinders the team’s progress. It’s a difficult but necessary act of compassion for both the individual and the collective good.

Lesson 3: Have Fun. Yes, even in the face of high-stakes pressures, a little levity goes a long way. Landro recalls the camaraderie and humour that kept spirits high during long deployments. In the business world, this translates to fostering a positive work environment, celebrating wins (big and small), and not taking ourselves too seriously. A dose of laughter can disarm tension, spark creativity, and remind us that even in the pursuit of ambitious goals, joy is a vital ingredient.

Lesson 4: Understand Your Customer. In the military, intelligence is key. You wouldn’t fly blind into enemy territory, and you shouldn’t run a business without knowing your customer inside and out. Landro emphasizes the importance of deep customer understanding, not just demographics, but their needs, wants, and pain points. Actively listen to feedback, conduct market research, and walk a mile in your customer’s shoes. Only then can you build products and services that truly resonate.

Lesson 5: Work-Life Balance is Non-Negotiable. Burned-out heroes make poor leaders. Landro, a family man himself, recognizes the importance of work-life balance. Encourage flexible schedules, promote mental and physical well-being, and lead by example. Remember, a happy, healthy team is a productive team, and a leader who neglects their own well-being is neglecting the well-being of their team.

Lesson 6: The Team is the Engine. In the military, no soldier fights alone. The Air Force motto, “Aim High,” applies as much to teamwork as it does to flying. Landro builds “synergy teams” in his company, pairing individuals with complementary skills and fostering an environment of collaboration and mutual support. Remember, individual brilliance pales in comparison to the collective power of a team firing on all cylinders.

Lesson 7: Informal Networks Matter. Don’t underestimate the power of the water cooler conversations. Landro emphasizes the importance of informal networks, those unscripted interactions that build trust and spark innovation. Create spaces for these connections to happen, encourage mentorship across departments, and remember that sometimes, the best ideas come from the most unexpected corners of your organization.

Lesson 8: Mentorship is a Gift. We all stand on the shoulders of giants. Landro credits his own success to the mentors who saw his potential and invested in his growth. Pay it forward. Identify rising stars in your team, offer guidance, share your knowledge, and be the mentor you wish you had. The ripple effect of your dedication can transform lives and fuel the next generation of leaders.

Art Landro’s story is not just about his journey from silo to startup; it’s a beacon for any leader, veteran or civilian, seeking to build a team that transcends the ordinary. His lessons are not mere platitudes; they are forged in the crucible of high-stakes leadership, where failure is not an option. By embracing these principles and leading with purpose, passion, and a touch of humor, you too can build a team that soars, leaving your own mark on the world.

Remember, leadership is not about titles or positions; it’s about the courage to inspire, the wisdom to guide, and the heart to serve. So, go forth, lead with purpose, and watch your team take flight.

This article is based on the insights of Chris Cancialosi, Ph.D., Partner and Founder at gothamCulture, originally published in Entrepreneurs magazine.

Prof. Dr. Prahlada N. B
29 December 2023
Mogadishu, Somalia.

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