There is one group of folks whose backgrounds make them perfectly suited to running either an ice cream store or something grander in scale: those who have served in the military either as non commissioned or commissioned officers. These folks are accustomed to being in charge, something that's vital to running a business. But more importantly, they know their power does not come from being in charge (title or rank); it comes from dealing with people and dealing with them as individuals. Yes, the military can order folks to do something, and they will, but that is not often how it works in the ranks. Good officers and non coms know their troops, their likes, dislikes, as well as what excites them and what does not. They are not psychologists, but they know how to foster unit cohesion - that is, soldiers pulling together as one, which is the ultimate strength of any fighting force.
Managing an ice cream store will not land you on the cover of Business Week or Fortune, but of the many senior managers who have graced those covers, it is fun to wonder how many of them could actually run such a shop. Mark Cuban, the in your face and outspoken billionaire investor and sports entrepreneur, once upbraided a sports commissioner by saying he didn't have what it took to manage a Dairy Queen. When folks at the fast food emporium complained, Cuban, never one to miss making a headline, dropped into a Dairy Queen for a day as manager. As a self made businessman, Cuban acquitted himself well enough, but he was humble enough to acknowledge his limitations. And that's something that few in senior management would do. And perhaps that's another added lesson of managing on the front lines. You certainly don't get a swelled head.
John Baldoni is a leadership communications consultant who works with Fortune 500 companies as well as nonprofits. He is a frequent keynote and workshop speaker as well as the author of six books on leadership. Readers are welcome to visit his leadership resource Website at www.johnbaldoni.com
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