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Lessons from the Generals

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Lessons from the Generals

Decisive Action Amid the Chaos of Crisis


5 min read
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What's inside?

The military can teach business a lot about management, especially during crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The comparison of business to war is almost a cliché. However, authors Yuval Atsmon, David Chinn, Martin Hirt and Sven Smit, all senior partners at McKinsey, go beyond the usual superficial parallels to explain how businesses can learn from the military’s approach to leadership and crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic seriously disrupted business operations, even entire economies. Managers confronting this – and other – crises at every organizational level can and should learn from military principles and practices. They will benefit from this analysis. 


Crises demand bold, decisive leadership.

Daily struggles during the Covid pandemic made ordinary people feel as if their lives were unfolding on a battlefield. People sacrificed freedoms and suffered economic damage. The situation kept changing rapidly and unpredictably. Except for fast economic policy adaptation, the world’s response to Covid has been too slow as the pandemic overwhelmed businesses. Purveyors of groceries, for example, have been on the front line, juggling concern for the safety of their staff members and clients with difficulties maintaining inventories and the specter of an uncertain future for their industry as e-commerce burgeons. 

Military leaders’ training focuses on making decisions amid such uncertainty. The command structure of the military exists to enable rapid response to grave dangers that morph unpredictably. A military approach streamlines decisions by...

About the Authors

Yuval Atsmon and David Chinn are senior partners in McKinsey’s London office, Martin Hirt is a senior partner in the Greater China office and Sven Smit is a senior partner in the Amsterdam office.

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