The one thing that can make or break a company

September 28, 2015, 7:41 PM UTC
Courtesy of Gay Gaddis

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What is the biggest leadership lesson you’ve learned in the past year? is written by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

This past August, I learned an invaluable lesson in leadership that changed my life forever. Invited by the U.S. Department of Defense through the Senior Leader Engagement Program — an intensive program meant to increase public understanding of national defense — I was one of four women to spend an entire week immersed in all branches of our military.

We started each morning at 4:15 and spent action-packed days experiencing the discipline, leadership, commitment and, most importantly, strategic planning of our country’s defenders. We were transported on C-17 and KC-130 cargo aircraft, and a CV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft. We explored submarines and piloted Coast Guard cutters. We shot guns with the rangers and were privileged to observe a ceremony where recruits at Parris Island earned their Eagle, Globe and Anchor for the first time. The Eagle, Globe and Anchor ceremony was one of the most patriotic and emotional events I have ever witnessed. It was awe-inspiring to see those young recruits become Marines.

See also: Oracle’s co-CEO: Leaders need to ask tougher questions

My biggest takeaway from my week with the U.S. military was just how important it is to be prepared for the worst-case scenario in any planning effort. That mindset is incredibly relevant to those of us in leadership positions. I’m not just talking about a crisis plan. I’m talking about chaos. Chaos will occur. It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

In the military, they plan for both the most likely eventuality and the most dangerous. It takes a healthy amount of experience and understanding to be able to effectively plan and be prepared for chaos. At some point, you need to be able to ask yourself, “Do I know how to identify the signposts on the road to catastrophic failure?” If you don’t know how to identify your potential problems, you can’t hedge against their consequences. In my business, chaos can range anywhere from patent infringements to client changes to power outages. We know that we cannot control all circumstances, but we must be prepared, ready and able to act quickly when we encounter the unexpected.

The question you must ask yourself is the following: Do I and does my company have the hip pocket plan in place for when all hell breaks loose? And, once the plan is developed, have I communicated it clearly to all who must take action? As learned from our military, think through these scenarios, clearly define everyone’s role and make sure there is a hierarchy for following through to the lowest level of implementation. That is ultimately called being prepared, and it can make or break your company.



Read all responses to the MPW Insider question: What is the biggest leadership lesson you’ve learned in the past year?

What millennials can teach CEOs about leadership by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Lockheed Martin’s Marillyn Hewson: One of the biggest lessons she learned this year by Marillyn Hewson, CEO, chairman, and president of Lockheed Martin.

How CST Brands’ CEO overcomes resistance to change by Kim Lubel, CEO, chairman and president of CST Brands.

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty’s secret to a successful career by Ginni Rometty, CEO, chairman and president of IBM.

Mondelez CEO says this is why managers need to be more transparent with employees by Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Mondelez.

Read More

Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion