8 Leadership Principles Boutique IT Service Firms Can Learn From The Military

1. Communications

Communication is one of the fundamentals in the military. It must be very clear and precise, otherwise the smallest misunderstanding can cause major devastation. Clear communication takes place when the receiver precisely understands what the sender means. You communicate for several purposes.

2. Developing Associates and Teams

As a leader, you must have a strong bond with your people. Leadership by remote control is a sad and rather sick illusion. Ken Blanchard calls it seagull leadership: So-called leaders fly in, make a lot of noise, crap all over the place on everyone and then fly out. Their only contact with their people is when they show up to reprimand them.

3. Developing, Teaching, Coaching and Counselling

The main purpose of leadership in the military is to turn soldiers into leaders, so they can pass on the skills both to the soldiers in their units and their children in civilian life. It’s about helping people to grow as people. The military prepares soldiers for many worst-case scenarios. And since the environment can be pretty stressful, soldiers must become good counsellors and coaches to help people in their units. And since this level of help can mean the difference between life and death, it must be taken seriously.

4. Enhancing Functional, Contextual and Personal Mastery

Many IT professionals believe that the more they know about their functional areas, the better they become as professionals. There are some interesting considerations here. I use the world of sports here. Think of some high-achieving athletes and think of some high-achieving sports coaches. What you find is that most high-achieving athletes have never become high-achieving coaches, and most high-achieving coaches have never been high-achieving athletes. They require two different skills.

5. Improving Decision-Making

Imagine a shooting competition. The contestants are holding their riffles at the target and are aiming… aiming… and still aiming. The clock strikes noon, and they’re still aiming. Then the clock strikes midnight, and they’re still aiming. At the crack of dawn, they’re still aiming.

6. Perfecting Planning Skills

Planning is the skill that is less and less appreciated in this Internet-speed world. And a few years ago the dot com companies made it even worse. “Never mind planning. If we fail, we just beg for more venture capital and maybe we burn less of it in the next round.” The interesting thing is that over the years information technology and venture capital have become co-dependent. One cannot live without the other.

7. Effectively Using Available Systems

Many boutique IT firms take the “we provide personalised services” a bit too far and in the wrong direction. You call the firm and it’s almost impossible to find your way from the voice mail labyrinth to a live person. But when you ask for the same information which ten other prospects have already asked for on the same day, someone starts assembling the information pieces for you one by painstakingly one. In plain English, many firms humanise the trivia and automate the vital.

8. Upholding and Enforcing The Firm’s Code of Honour

The US Armed Forces (Army, Navy, etc.) adhere to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The Samurai in Japan lived by the code of the Bushido (Code of the Warrior Soul of Japan). The glue that holds together any team of people is a Code of Honour.


Why can’t most boutique IT firms live up to the “ultimate professional service firm” moniker? It’s lack of accountability. In most firms, there three types of accountability: Make money, conform and obey. As long as you perform your assigned number of billable hours, conform to the corporate dogma and blindly obey the so-called managers and executives, everything else is irrelevant.



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Tom 'Bald Dog' Varjan

Tom 'Bald Dog' Varjan

Tom helps boutique IT service firms to liberate themselves from the yoke of the dreaded feast and famine cycle and fill their books with premium clients.