Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom
Updated: Nov 3
Great leadership is crucial to the success of any great organization. As part of the annual ASU + GSV Summit, our CEO, Roxanne Petraeus, and General David Petraeus had a candid discussion on leadership skills that do and don’t translate from the military to the boardroom.
Their combined accomplishments are too numerous and varied to list in full, but here’s a quick rundown: Roxanne is the CEO of Ethena and a former Army combat veteran, having served in the U.S. Army’s Special Operations, as well as a former McKinsey consultant and Rhodes Scholar. General Petraeus is a partner at the private equity firm KKR, and served over 37 years in the U.S. military and afterwards as Director of the CIA, overseeing a period of significant achievements in the global war on terror and investments in the Agency’s digital and human capital initiatives. Needless to say, you’re going to want to listen to what these two have to say below!
1. The military provides strategic leadership frameworks that can be applied to scaling companies:
a. General Petraeus lays out four tasks for a strategic leader.
Get the big ideas right.
Communicate those ideas throughout the organization.
Oversee the implementation of the ideas.
Make refinements and adjustments to the ideas.
b. “Just care.” The basic thing a leader must do is just care. It’s a simple axiom that is applicable across all aspects of life; if those in leadership positions keep the mission close to their heart, their actions will often closely follow.
2. The leadership style must match the context you’re working in:
Top-down leadership styles are more common in the military, and less so in the private sector, especially at scaling companies. Due to the dynamics of today’s workforce, it can be advantageous to lead with a more collaborative style, informed by the personality types of the team.
3. Identifying, training, and educating future leaders is one of the most important things you can do for company-building:
a. The military has done an incredible job of structuring professional development so no individual becomes a leader until they have a certain amount of experience. While those requirements might occasionally be too strict, tech companies in particular tend to take the opposite approach, where individuals might be hired one day and managing six people the next, without any leadership experience or internal guidance. The important thing is supporting the individual and giving them the tools they need to succeed, which will look different for each person.
b. A tactical way companies can take a cue from the military in this regard is the balance between structured programming and fostered self-study. For example, implementation of continuous learning opportunities for professional development such as structured feedback, executive coaching, or a book club, over the course of each week, month, and year to develop leadership and domain expertise.
Special thanks to GSV for hosting this fireside chat as part of their annual ASU + GSV Summit, and Roxanne and General Petraeus for taking the time to share their advice.