Tom Williams’ Strategic Leadership Lessons from the Trenches

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on January 19, 2024

There are few institutions in the world where leadership plays a crucial role as it does in the military. When so many decisions that are being made can result in the life or death of civilians, as well as enlisted and professional personnel, suddenly it becomes extremely important who is making those decisions, based on what intelligence and training, and whether the people following them have the confidence in the leadership to see the decisions through.

As a professional member of the armed forces who’s played several roles in his career, Tom Williams has seen the good and the bad of a highly hierarchical structure that puts a premium on leadership. He knows just how inspiring it can be to have a great leader.

“People want to be around people they like. You see them, and they smile, make eye contact with you, and like you,” Williams says. “But when I was a young private in the army, I really saw how toxic some people can be, and those cancerous people just make your life hell, and no one wants to be around those people.”

“Liking” and “wanting to be around” are layperson terms with a much deeper meaning in the military context. People who serve lead extreme lives, and wanting to be around and liking someone usually translates into a willingness to follow them no matter what – a lesson that applies to modern business.

“One of the stories that I tell is, for example, how I led 40 people to go jump with me at negative 20 out of an airplane into the essentially sub-Arctic,” Williams says. “Then that night, it’s negative 50 degrees. Then, we will do combat operations and negative temperatures the next day. If I can get somebody to follow me there, I can get people to do pretty much everything.”

In his new book, War Forged Leadership, Williams dissects the principles of leadership he learned during his years of service and explains them in a way applicable to various roles that require a person to be a leader. The corporate world comes to mind first, even though communities, startups, and other organizations might benefit from the wisdom Williams gathered during his years of service.

“The good thing about my experience is it’s given me a lot of variety,” Williams says. “I’ve met so many leaders over my years, I can kind of see quickly what’s wrong with an organization’s leadership model. Are they doing performance counseling? Or are leaders tracking metrics? What are people telling somebody if they suck at their job, then what are they doing training-wise to help make them better? So that’s the kind of stuff that I want to bring to the table.”

Maybe the biggest and most important leadership lesson Williams picked up on duty is that leadership is never about the leader – it’s always about the people being led. Of course, it’s about the mission, but there’s no accomplishing it without the whole team.

“Leadership, in general, is a lifestyle choice, and I just want people to be passionate about taking care of their people,” Williams concludes. “That’s the key takeaway I want to leave somebody after they have a conversation with me, to think about being a servant leader and taking care of people in the organization.”

By Spencer Hulse Spencer Hulse has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Spencer Hulse is the Editorial Director at Grit Daily. He is responsible for overseeing other editors and writers, day-to-day operations, and covering breaking news.

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