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As a leader you recognise how important it is to lead exceptionally well during this COVID crisis, yet how do you know what ‘leading exceptionally well’ looks like when you have never faced a crisis before?!

You have no direct experience to refer back to and yet you are expected to lead with confidence and wisdom. As many CEO’s have stated over the last 7 months “There is no business playbook for a pandemic.”

So where can today’s business leaders, facing the COVID-19 crisis and all its flow-on effects, turn to for answers? For thousands of years, military leaders have experienced challenges of this magnitude. Here are seven lessons we can learn from some of history’s most effective military leaders:


1. Be Decisive

Many business leaders today are facing the toughest challenges they have ever known. Businesses are needing to reinvent and restructure. Business leaders can learn from one of the first lessons taught in the military: Don’t dwell on your losses. Be decisive and keep a forward focus, even with all the ambiguity and uncertainty of what lies ahead.


2. Be in the Trenches

Great military leaders fight side by side with their soldiers. The Duke of Wellington is said to have remarked that Napoleon’s very presence on the battlefield was worth 40,000 fighting men.


3. Be Agile

When Winston Churchill became prime minister in May 1940, he attacked the slow-moving British war bureaucracy by printing red ‘ACTION THIS DAY’ labels. He personally pasted these to many of the documents he dispatched, driving a sense of action and urgency.


Winston Churchill


4. Lead with Confidence

Great military leaders know they must lead with confidence, underpinned by optimism. Their people feed off this confidence. It inspires them to believe, they choose to go the extra mile, to do whatever it takes.

At Agincourt, when many other commanders would have chosen to retreat, confident in his strategy and buttressed by his investment in new technology (the more accurate and powerful longbow), Henry V turned and faced an army three times his size. He had utter confidence in his team, “The Band of Brothers” memorialised by Shakespeare, and was victorious.


5. Communicate to Inspire

Wartime leaders know that communicating well transmits vital information and strengthens resolve. Napoleon sent pithy daily, uplifting messages to the troops, which built morale.




6. Move Leaders and Tasks Rapidly

In war, some leaders rise to the occasion. Military leaders give more and more command to those who succeed, promoting them quickly up the ranks and expanding their responsibilities.

Those struggling are not fired, but their workload is reduced, and step-by-step instruction is given until they are effective. In this way, all leaders perform at their peak. Napoleon, Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth Von Moltke, and German General Erich Ludendorff all gave considerable latitude to their leading commanders and were quick to promote those who proved victorious.


7. Rest the Troops

During the Revolutionary War, Washington chose to rest his troops at Valley Forge, directly defying demands from Congress to attack the British in Philadelphia. While hardly a holiday, Valley Forge was a place to rest and regroup, which also gave the troops the strength to survive the harsh winter.


George Washington


As we all work harder than ever during COVID-19, leaders need to make sure their staff are rested, that the boundary between work and personal life exists, and that weekends and holidays exist.

Which of these seven lessons resonate with you as a leader? And how will you ensure you put the lesson into practice, benefiting your leadership skills, your team and your entire business?