What accountants can learn from the commandos

THE WORLDS of accountant and the solider seem very far apart at first glance. 

However, businesses are changing in an uncertain, and in many ways hostile, environment – just the sort of parameters in which commandos operate and have to achieve their mission, come what may.

You certainly need a commando spirit to lead a company or advise on finance in the current economy. In fact, having embraced the world of business 15 years ago after 18 as a Royal Marine, I have always been struck by how the approach to “getting things done” that the military instils is directly applicable to today’s uncertain environment.

In the military, achieving the mission is everything. It is the same for business – the ones that succeed are those that get the really important things done despite the unpredictability and change going on around them.

From my training and experience in Britain’s forces, I have distilled six questions that business people should ask themselves, whether in industry or practice, to help them and their teams:

Who are you and what are your values?
Not monetary values but beliefs. As an accountant – an advisor and business leader – you should make your values personal and real. You need belief in yourself and commitment to your won cause. You do that by exploring and strengthening the link between your personal values and your business brand values. Don’t underestimate the power of your values to achieve a business purpose.

Where are you going?
The numbers matter, but it is a vision that inspires. Focus on your vision. It has enormous power if everyone focuses on the same vision. It is about creating a legacy, enabling you to tell your stories of achievement in years to come. You will take different routes to get there but the vision will inspire you. Kennedy inspired a nation by giving them the challenge of “putting a man on the moon and returning him safely”. What will inspire you and your team?

Are we aligned?
The mission drives your actions to realise your vision. It needs to be crystal clear. What is clear is simple. What is simple gets done. Follow your mission. Do not allow any form of mistranslation, and give yourself and your team freedom on how to achieve this. One-third of business success is about planning and preparation, but two-thirds is execution.

Do we have team spirit?
It is a question you must ask and keep asking – you cannot allow it to leave the front of your mind. You can fuel team spirit by focusing on performance and involvement. Build the spirit to win. It comes not from pondering but from doing. These are people who go into battle with you – whether you are in battle or doing all night emergency work, you and your team need a strong spirit to win.

Are you leading effectively?
You are a leader – you lead your team, your colleagues and your clients. You need to constantly ask yourself if you are leading effectively. Leadership means holding back from excessive involvement in everyday detail. Trust others to deliver their mission by providing them with direction and support. But be prepared to take the lead if the situation calls for it. It is never acceptable to stand bank or shirk when that moment arrives. As a leader you have to step forward. Live up to the responsibility of leadership.

How do you know if you are winning?
Monitor, monitor, monitor. Numbers are a massive strength for accountants, but it is the right ones that matter – be clear about cause and effect, and do not focus on symptoms. If something is not working in the right way, know what it is and know what is causing it. Then be decisive in taking action to put it right.

You have committed yourself and your business to a programme. Make sure it works. You need information and intelligence to let you know if you really are winning.

Working life is often tough mentally if not physically, but it can also be fun and enjoy that challenge. If you have the desire to win you will overcome the many challenges and learn from any falls that come along the way – by asking these questions, and giving honest answers, I hope you too can find the commando spirit to achieve goals you might have thought were near impossible.

Damian McKinney is a former Royal Marine and founder of McKinney Rogers. He is also the author of The Commando Way, an extract of which will feature on Accountancy Age next week.

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