That said, the foundations of military command and business management are very similar.

The qualities that make good officers also make good managers, and both groups share a lot

of the same potential pitfalls, because ultimately both jobs are about human relations. Whatever the circumstances, it’s always about getting people to work together to complete a mission. Knowing your staff, understanding their capacities and aspirations, and caring for each of them—even those whose capabilities are more limited—are the basic rules of the job.’

-Vice Admiral Eric Chaplet,  
McKinsey on Defense 9

Business and military management indeed share many similarities, although many obvious differences also exist. I am interested in briefly looking at some similarities and differences between them due to my business studies and military background. I am currently finishing my MSc studies in strategic management and I completed military service in the Finnish Defence Force during 2012-2013. I was selected to the Reserve Officer School and served as a military police platoon leader for the remaining of my service. In addition, I was a volunteer member of the regional company in reserve after completion of military service.

As seen in the quotation by Vice Admiral Eric Chaplet, military and business management both deal with managing human relations in order to complete missions. Both business and military management deal with determining goals, achieving objectives, communication and implementation. Good officers can indeed become good business managers, especially if they understand the underlying differences between business world and warfare. A good example of a successful officer and a business manager is John Boyd, who strongly influenced strategy in both business and warfare. In addition, many business managers are also reserve officers in my native Finland, so I do believe that experience in military leadership helps in business world. However, I have also understood that the presence of military officers in business is very country-specific and related to the approval of the respective military.

“As much as business people like to see military analogies in what they are doing, business is not warfare.”

-From Strategy to Implementation: Seeking Alignment

In spite of similarities and benefits of military leadership for business world and vice versa, military and business management do indeed have obvious differences. Business is about gaining commercial success and financial results, whereas warfare, bluntly said, is about killing or getting killed. Perhaps based on the severe nature of warfare, military management is significantly more hierarchical than business management, at least usually. Even though orders are orders in both military and business management, there is barely any room for questioning orders in military, whereas this depends on the organizational culture and structure in business. In addition, a refusal of an order in military in many countries leads to a criminal punishment, thus illustrating the severeness of such a refusal.

“Nevertheless, the military example of reorganizing people and material in support of a new strategy is instructive and useful.’
-From Strategy to Implementation: Seeking Alignment

Somewhat interestingly for the contemporary studies of strategic (business) management, strategy was not considered a part of business until 1940s, according to the Lords of Strategy. Strategy was, indeed, considered as a part of warfare, not of business. The strategy did finally become a vital part of business and it would be difficult to imagine business management today without strategy being a part of it.  

Whereas strategy came to the business world from the military, military management has learned several aspects from business management. I remember hearing something very familiar during a corporate entrepreneurship lecture, when we discussed transformational leadership. I realized that the current Finnish military management theory has heavily borrowed from the concept of transformational leadership. One could argue that contemporary military management is becoming more organic and personal, trying to reduce bureaucratic hierarchies usually related to it.

Military and business management both share similarities with thinking of objectives, decisions and strategy. The environments and goals differ, but good officers and business managers certainly share similar traits. I do believe that having a military background is helpful for business career, at least as a beneficial addition among other important experiences.  

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