What the Army Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

Today, I want to write about what the Army taught me about entrepreneurship.  I was fortunate to spend 15 years in the Army, as both an enlisted man and officer.  I enjoyed that experience immensely and learned many valuable life and business lessons that still guide me today.

My goal today is to share with you seven important lessons that the Army taught me about entrepreneurship.  They are listed in no particular order.

Lesson # 1: The Mission Comes First

In the Army, everything is about the mission.  Soldiers adopt the “whatever it takes” mentality to make sure the mission gets done, done on time, and done right.  Sometimes that means working long hours, even weekends.  Sometimes it means making personal sacrifices, like being away from your family for months at a time, or even giving your life.  But no matter what, the mission is always the # 1 priority.

When it comes to building a successful business, the business must always be your # 1 priority. I’m not telling you to neglect your family, but do make sure that you eliminate all other distractions and focus on the most important thing: your business.  Your business will need your UNDIVIDED attention for at least the first few years, while you get it up and running.

Think of your new business as a newborn baby.  Love it, nurture it, take care of it, give it what it needs, and keep it your top priority, until it doesn’t need you anymore (or not as much).

Lesson # 2: You Must Constantly Hone and Develop Your Skills

In the Army, you are constantly training.  You do field training exercises, professional development classes, counseling with your superiors, go to schools, etc.  The purpose of this training is to master your craft and be the best you can be.  I like to call it “being a student of your profession.”

As a business owner, you must do the same thing.  Learn everything you can about your industry and business.  Read books, hire coaches, find mentors, attend workshops, listen to audio training programs and do EVERYTHING you can to hone and develop your skills.  Be a student of your business.  Keep learning and never stop doing it.

Lesson # 3: You Can’t Be Scared to Take Risks

The Army is a dangerous profession.  In the Army, you deal with risk all the time.  As a leader, your job is to minimize and mitigate the risk as much as possible, but to still get the job done. As a leader, you sometimes have to make tough decisions, even with little information. That’s what you get paid to do.

Being a business owner is naturally risky.  You have to make tough decisions, too.  You won’t necessarily have a steady pay check either. There’s a good chance you could fail and lose everything.  Yet, you press on and move forward anyway.  I think this is the biggest difference between being an employee and business owner: guts!

Lesson # 4: You Can Only Have One Person in Charge

The Army is a dictatorship, not a democracy.  Business is the same way.  You can only have one person in charge if you want a successful business.  By all means, surround yourself with talent and listen to what they have to say, but remember that it is your business, and no employee (or any other person) will EVER care about your business as much as you do.  Never rely on a board, committee, or a group of people to make a decision: EVER.  It’s your business, so you be in charge and you decide.

Lesson # 5: Surround Yourself with the Best Talent Possible

Smart leaders and business people look for talented people and hire them.  One of my old Army leaders (a very successful one at that) told me that he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but he knew how to surround himself with very talented people.  These folks helped improve the organization and helped increase his value to the Army.

As a business leader, you can’t and shouldn’t do everything yourself.  Whether you hire employees or independent contractors, look for talented people who compliment you in areas you aren’t naturally good at.  Find the best people you can and pay them well.  It’s money well spent.

Lesson # 6: Systems are the Keys to Success

The Army is very big at documenting everything.  They have Standing Operating Procedures for everything you could imagine. The purpose of doing this is to standardize how they do things, so anyone can come to the organization, read the SOP, and know what to do.  This is the same reason that franchises are so successful in the marketplace.  They have documented systems for doing things.  The systems pretty much eliminate the human error factor and allow anyone off the street to know exactly what to do.  If you own a business, you need to develop your own systems.  The sooner you do that, the sooner you can free yourself from the business.

Charles HolmesLesson # 7: The Speed of the Leader is the Speed of the Team

In business, the speed of the leader is the speed of the team.  I learned in the Army that a bad leader could ruin a good unit, and a good leader could take the Bad News Bears and turn them into a superb organization.  Simply put, an organization is a reflection of its leader. In the business world, the same holds true.  If you are having problems in your business, the first thing you should do is look yourself in the mirror and “man up.”  Work on yourself. Improve.  Get better. Until you improve yourself, your business will never improve.  Lead by example at all times.

Final Thoughts

These are just seven lessons that the Army taught me about entrepreneurship.  Most of these lessons apply to business, jobs, life and anything else.

What are your thoughts?  If you ever served in the Army, or military, what did it teach you about entrepreneurship?  Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.  I look forward to hearing from you.  Have a great day.

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Chuck Holmes

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5 thoughts on “What the Army Taught Me About Entrepreneurship

  1. Mickiyas

    Lesson #1 is my favorite. The takeaway is, whatever it is that you’re doing, work hard and spend as much time and energy as it takes to succeed at it. Set yourself a goal and never sleep until the job is done.

    Sometimes thinking about the sacrifices that people in the army make, makes you realize that you’re not working as hard as you can.

  2. Diamond Grant

    What great lessons you were able to bring from your time in the Army into your business. I am the child of two parents who served in the Navy and they both have shared lessons with me from their time in the military that I have been able to apply in business as well. Finishing what you started is one of the biggest lessons they have passed down. Not because others are relying on you, though they are, but primarily because you owe it to yourself to stay true to your word and follow through.

  3. Mark Scott

    This is a beautiful lesson taught buy the army and a note of inspiration to anyone who wonders what drives entrepreneurs to push boundaries, the rules of logic and anything else that stands in the way of reaching goals.


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