As a Marine lieutenant in Vietnam, I learned some important lessons--lessons that apply directly to business. One of those lessons was on speaking out, even if what I say may be wrong or unpopular.
Serving as a helicopter pilot, I looked down on many battles and saw the enemy--Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army--fighting with more ferocity than the South Vietnamese. One day, after sustaining terrible losses, I asked my commanding officer, “Why do their Vietnamese fight harder than our Vietnamese?” Needless to say, that comment nearly got me court-martialed. It bordered on treason. In the military, you are not to ask why?
Today, some young officers question their leaders. If you haven’t been in battle, you have no idea how frustrating it is to take orders from a civilian thousands of miles away and fight a war.
When we first begin a business, we’re on the front line. If successful, we tend to retreat to the ivory tower and lose touch with the front line--our employees and customers.
Can you take criticism from your workers, customers and associates? Entrepreneurs I’ve met believe they’re in touch with the front line and take criticism well. Still, I have not yet met one entrepreneur who has agreed with the criticism and said, “I can improve in those areas.” That is the real problem.
My commanding officer in Vietnam was a great guy, but he had his hands full. The last thing he needed was a young lieutenant asking questions. But it was an important question, worthy of being pushed up the chain of command. I believe the reason he did not relay the question up the chain of command was simply because they were deaf.
Don’t be deaf to what’s really happening in your business. Entrepreneurs are leaders and should constantly ask themselves questions such as “Can we do something better?” “Are we fulfilling our mission?” “Am I listening to my customers and my employees?” “Am I being told the truth?” As an entrepreneur, your job is to get your workers to work harder than your opponent’s workers. That’s what leaders do.