Thursday, November 11, 2010

Adapt, Improvise, Overcome – Celebrating Veteran’s Day with 3 Lessons from the Military that Mean Entrepreneurial Success (Part 1) PLUS Colin Powell’s Lessons on Leadership (Part 2)

As a former military pilot and veteran, I understand the absolute mindset that goes into accomplishing the mission, no matter what the risk or cost. Simply put, there are times when failure is not an option, and our military deals with that stark, binary reality every day.

As a serial entrepreneur, I also understand the challenges that exist to start up a successful business venture. While the risks may not be “life and limb”, the economic risk and realities of failure certainly can test the mettle of the strongest entrepreneur’s will.

Here are a few quick lessons that I have learned in my decade served in the military. Additionally as an added Veteran’s Day bonus, the timeless lessons on leadership from General Colin Powell are presented as well. So…entrepreneurs….ATTEN–SHUN! Drop and give me 10 (minutes) that can hopefully make a difference between success and failure in your mission as an entrepreneur!

1. Adapt, Improvise, Overcome

The US Marines don’t make excuses, they just get the job done and so do most successful entrepreneurs. This Marine Corp unofficial motto suggests that knowing you have to deal with whatever life (or business) hands you and still make it work is essential to success. It doesn’t matter that most businesses fail in the first 5 years…you have a mission to accomplish!

This is one mindset that should be the primer for any budding entrepreneur – or be the gut check for anyone not willing to embrace this harsh reality.

2. Always have a Plan B and maybe a Plan C

There is a saying that the best laid plans can come undone, as soon as there is enemy or situational contact. As a former military pilot, I can attest that even on a good day with “a full bag of gas, clear blue and twenty-two” (ask a pilot what this means if you don’t know), it always pays to have Plan B in the back of your mind. Whether it is engine failure, a stray round that finds you (affectionately known as the “golden bb”), bad weather that comes out of nowhere or a whole host of other problems, you better have a backup plan to whatever you do. The same goes for a startup or entrepreneur – have a backup plan or two, because it is unlikely your first plan will survive 100% intact once you actually start.

3. Ready to Lead, Ready to Follow, Never Quit

This is the official motto of the US Navy Seals, the most lethal military unit in the world. Made up of men that redefine the words courage, valor and integrity under pressure, these silent warriors fight a battle that the average citizen will never understand or even be aware of to the fullest extent.

I have flown these men during my time overseas. They are smart, motivated, highly disciplined, yet also extremely creative. They do not follow orthodox methods for mission success. But they all share a secret that many business people and entrepreneurs can benefit from knowing.

This secret is based on versatility and understanding your role in the mission’s success. Today’s lower ranking man could become tomorrow’s leader, either through promotion, demotion, attrition or casualty – so you better be a good follower and a good leader, and ready to go back and forth as the situation dictates. Lead from the front, but know what it’s like to be in the rear. And sometimes the difference from being in front and being in the rear is the direction you are going at the time –which can change fast.

Entrepreneurs need to recognize their role, value and function in the equation for their business success. You also need to be smart enough to respect your team member, never confusing “rank” for “authority or expertise”. Entrepreneurship is not a democracy and someone needs to be in charge, but you better check your ego at the door and be prepared to lead, follow – and never quit – if you want to make it big. Teamwork trumps individual efforts. So be ready to Lead, Follow and Never Quit.

Lastly, be sure to remember this Veteran's Day that freedom is never free. If you like the FREEDOM to be an entrepreneur, be sure to thank a Veteran. They will never ask you to thank them, but deserve more thanks than many of us will ever know. For a great video, check out

Thank you to all Veteran's on this Veteran's Day. Tomorrow Part 2!

Written by Herb Sih, Managing Partner of Think Big Partners and bizperc, Kansas City's newest entrepreneurial resource.

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