Take a lead from a good leader, says Bruce Tulgan

By Leon Gettler >>

BUSINESSES can only rebrand themselves in a competitive market by recruiting well and teaching  executives how to lead and manage.

According to Bruce Tulgan, founder and CEO of the US based consultancy Rainmaker Thinking, businesses might even look to the military for ideas.

He believes some organisations are struggling to attract strong talent. They are looking for solutions in the wrong places.

“Our research shows that high performance is the most sustainable way and what we’ve learned is it’s your leadership culture, it’s your management culture. That is the way to brand yourself as an organisation in a sustainable way,” Mr Tulgan told Talking Business.

“Too many organisations have a leadership culture by default instead of a leadership culture by design and as a result of that, most organisations, their leaders, managers and supervisors are under-managing people. They are not providing enough support, guidance and direction, and in today’s environment, that is a really damaging culture to sustain. 

“The problem is it takes a huge amount of effort and energy to move your culture to strong, highly engaged leadership, high performance and high rewards for everyone.”


Mr Tulgan said military organisations were a good example of entities that do it well. They recruit a lot of extraordinary people but a lot of ordinary people too.

It’s just that they get extraordinary performance. It’s not because it’s an easy job or high pay. What delivers results for the military is ‘mission-driven work’ and the leadership culture, with leaders or officers who are strong leaders and coaches that know how to build their teams and make them better.

”I always point to the military, not that I suggest business leaders turn their organisations into military style organisations,” Mr Tulgan said. “But there, even when they don’t pay much, even when the job is dangerous, even when they have to hire a lot of ordinary people, they are able to get extraordinary performance out of people all day, every day, and they have low turnover among high performers. Why? Because they build a great leadership culture.”

Mr Tulgan said it is very hard for people to succeed in work places where they are not getting enough support and guidance from their managers.

He said the top managers in business, like the best officers in the military, are not barking orders at people but teaching their teams and subordinates how to follow – and they have a culture where they don’t put anyone in charge of anyone without teaching them to lead.


This is where the best part of military-style leadership comes to the fore.

“A huge part of what works is the dialogue, not the push-ups.  It’s the coaching, not cleaning the latrine with the toothbrush,” Mr Tulgan said.

“I’m not suggesting that every aspect of military culture is what you want to bring into the private sector. What I’m saying is, learn how well the dialogue and the coaching works.

“When people come into an organisation, we teach them a lot and one of the things we don’t teach them is the basics of ‘followership’. How to be a good citizen in this organisation, how to prepare for meetings properly, how to prepare for one on one conversations with your immediate leader/manager/supervisor, how to keep your manager informed of what you’re doing and make sure you are going in the right direction.

“And likewise, we put people in positions of supervisory responsibility without teaching them how to do the people work,” Mr Tulgan said.

He said usually people get promoted because they are good technicians or good at their job, but they are not given the training to manage people.

“We teach them how to do a little extra paperwork, nobody ever teaches them how to do the people work.”




Hear the complete interview and catch up with other topical business news on Leon Gettler’s Talking Business podcast, released every Friday at www.acast.com/talkingbusiness.  

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