By Sean Farrington Friday, 26 October 2012

MT Expert: What the Army can teach you about the business world

Former Army officer Sean Farrington, now CEO of QlikTech, on how to apply military training to help your business.

The route I took to the top of a technology company is not a conventional one. Before I even started in software, I spent 14 years in the Army, doing everything from running an ammunition depot and bomb disposal unit in Northern Ireland to air combat in the first Gulf War. It might not seem an obvious path, but I had a sense that the Army would furnish me with skills and ideas that could be translated into other fields.

On first returning to civilian life, I started in e-commerce and the business software and intelligence sectors. Moving into a sales job in a technical field was something that felt comfortable. I wanted to find a self-reliant role that had a bit of the ‘risk vs. reward’ feel about it.

Everyone in the Armed Forces knows that the execution of a good plan depends on how well it is led. Two leaders could have exactly the same people and the same skills, but the way they run things could have a drastic effect on the end result.

I joined the private sector job market much later on than my peers, but the leadership and management skills I developed in my previous career definitely helped me to get promoted very quickly. Effective people management is something many struggle with, but I entered at a level where I was comfortable leading teams from the go.

Another thing the Army showed me was that one has to have commitment and zeal – once a plan is made, you have to move forward and execute it, even if doubts creep in. Ego has no place in the Army and certainly no place in the boardroom, either. 

Along with this, Army officers develop the ability to turn ideas into actions and implement plans quickly, as well as having the courage to go beyond one’s comfort zone. This is invaluable in the world of business. To get ahead of the game, you need to quickly decide what you want to do and do it fast – this not only gets you ahead of your competitors, but also gets you noticed as a market leader.

I personally still enjoy having hands-on management responsibilities and keeping direct contact with people. My role now is very people oriented. My career has shown me the importance of setting individuals clear goals and objectives rather than micro managing them. 

The Armed Forces aren’t as hierarchical as most people think. Instead people are given clarity and direction to make a success of themselves. Giving people the same initiatives in the business world is also imperative to helping them be creative and growing as an individual – and after all, this will help the business grow in the long-term.

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