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5 army lessons to help run a successful business

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After University, I served in HM Forces for six years before pursuing a career as a management consultant in the capital markets. I’ve always been a passionate advocate of the truly immersive, engaging power of video games, which I believe is unrivalled by any other form of entertainment. My fascination with the economics and pace of technological innovation of the gaming industry led to the founding of Green Man Gaming in 2010. We’re now the world’s fastest growing digital retailer of games globally, currently selling over 4,500 games from over 250 publishing partners in over 180 territories worldwide.

Though my style as CEO has been shaped by a number of different experiences, some of my training from Sandhurst still informs how I operate as a leader. Certain lessons I learnt there are equally applicable to the day-to-day situations facing entrepreneurs as those facing soldiers. Here is my top five:

1. “No plan survives contact with the enemy”

The 19th century Prussian strategist Helmuth von Moltke the Elder is probably the most quoted strategist at RMA Sandhurst in the first term, and with good reason.

What this means is that even the best laid plans, when put into practice, often won’t play out as expected. It’s the responsibility of a leader to understand this and have the insight and flexibility to understand what part of the plan can be changed and when, and what the overall impact will be. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a website malfunction, a supplier who does not deliver, or an enemy ambush; when things go wrong, you need to be ready to react and adapt to them.

2. “Serve to lead”

As a leader, in whatever discipline, you are being paid to lead – not do. Just as an officer serves to lead his troops, a CEO serves to lead the company.

While you may be better at performing certain tasks than others around you, resist the temptation of taking over and doing them yourself. Succumbing to it leaves you overworked and your team members unfulfilled. Leaders of high-growth SMEs should try and balance their entrepreneurial enthusiasm with having trust in their expanding team.

Be it writing a report or field stripping a general purpose machine gun, leading your team by giving them the skills, power, confidence, and pride to successfully perform in their roles will have a far greater collective end result.

3. “There is no such thing as a bad soldier, only a bad officer”

Every person has his or her place in a team. It’s the job of the leader to recognise their strengths, find where they best fit within the team and ensure that they feel appreciated. A good leader can do this, maximising the skillsets of their employees to create a dedicated, high functioning, and efficient team.

4. “Get inside your enemies’ decision making cycle”

Getting inside the decision making cycle of your enemy is key in military execution. This translates well into how a business should think of their competition.

From making major corporate decisions to liaising with consumers and the media, your competitors are observing and adapting their actions to counter yours. Try to be on the front foot and force and a competitor to reveal their position or intention. This is a continuous decision making cycle, a process of “observe-orientate-decide-act.” This allows you to anticipate their next move and short-circuit their decision making process.

5. “Know your enemy”

In order to successfully enter the mind of your competition, you have to do your homework. Whether it’s tactics, capability, strategy, or personnel, it is essential to know as much as possible about the opposition that can be used to your advantage. This is particularly important in the “orientate” phase of the decision making cycle above

Take every opportunity to understand your competitor and their strategy, and then lead your team to success.

Paul Sulyok is the founder and CEO of Green Man Gaming.

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