Adapting Military Leadership Principles to Enhance HR Performance

We’ve talked about human leadership, and we’ve talked about agile leadership, but this week we’re covering military leadership. 

Inspired by this week’s guest on America Back to Work, Mike Sarraille, retired U.S. Navy SEAL officer and author of The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent, we’re walking you through how to adapt principles from military leadership to enhance HR strategies and performance. 

Clear Definition of Roles

In the military, there is a set chain of command in which everyone knows their role and place so that teams can act fast and collaborate under pressure. By creating clearly defined roles and responsibilities for each team member and a well-defined chain of approval, HR can foster the same kind of efficiency and agility in their teams. 

Mission First, People Always

Members of the Armed Forces are often reminded that there is nothing more important than accomplishing the mission except for taking care of the people involved. In HR, this could translate to balancing organizational goals with employee well-being or developing a rigorous hiring program while creating a positive candidate experience

Decisive Decision-Making 

Often, companies take weeks or months to make a decision about company strategy or project direction, but HR doesn’t necessarily have that luxury. After all, they deal with people, and people issues are usually urgent. Military leaders are trained to make quick, decisive, informed decisions in order to prioritize safety and mission goals. HR leaders should work to develop this skill, too—it can make or break during crisis management, conflict resolution, and labor relations

Continuous Training and Development

Training is ongoing in the military— it’s part of the job. It’s what helps servicemen get better at their jobs every day. In the spirit of this principle, HR should be sure to offer employees regular opportunities for professional development and make continuous learning and skill enhancement a core feature of company culture. Click here to learn how to build an effective learning and development program.

Team-Building and Trust-Building 

Military organizations rely on effective teams to complete tasks, achieve objectives, and accomplish missions. The ability to build teams through mutual trust and maintain effective, cohesive teams through military operations is an essential skill for Army leaders. According to a study by Deloitte, companies with a culture of teamwork are more likely to achieve their business objectives and experience higher revenue growth than those without it, which means the same should be true for HR leaders. They should be finding ways to build trust amongst their diverse teams so that they’re more likely to work through challenges together. A great way to go about that: create shared goals that force cross-team collaboration and interdepartmental teamwork. 

Effective Communication

Clear, concise, direct communication is crucial in the military; it’s also critical to have clear, dedicated channels of communication to ensure that the right message reaches the right people. HR leaders also need to communicate with employees and the C-suite clearly, concisely, and directly to achieve the best results. To facilitate that communication, HR should invest in the best technologies for team communication and assign specific channels of communication for specific purposes. 

Performance Under Pressure

The military trains its personnel to perform optimally under extreme pressure so that they’re ready when the going gets tough. In HR, cultivating a resilient employee base that thrives under pressure isn’t so much about pushing team members when things get hard, it’s more about pre-emptively teaching them the skills to navigate stressful times so they’re prepared to dig in when the time comes. That might look like providing mental health resources and encouraging employees to take advantage of them or providing education about burnout and how to manage it


Leaders set the tone for the rest of the organization—and military leaders know this well. That’s why leading by example is a core leadership principle of the U.S. Army. In a company setting, when company leaders hold themselves accountable, they inspire everyone down the line to take responsibility for their actions and follow through on their commitments. Without leadership accountability, however, organizations tend to suffer from misalignment, lack of ownership, and a failure to execute strategic initiatives. 

For more military leadership inspiration from a retired Marine and U.S. Navy SEAL officer, listen to or watch this week’s episode of America Back to Work with Mike Sarraille by clicking here


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