October 18

Brutal feedback is how you grow

From the military into Product, part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2, I outlined two key lesson that I have manage to carry forward from my time in the military to my roles in Product.

  1. Servant leadership is not sacrificial leadership
  2. No one is going to die in Product (for the most part)

In the Army, I was stationed in Germany for four years. I loved my time there, the country is lovely, the people are friendly, and everything works. Being stationed in Germany was very different from my previous postings in the UK. In the UK, everyone heads home early on Friday, many people weekly commute, and many headed off to meet friends and family, or to do their own thing. In Germany, due to the distance, people stick around for weekends and generally try to spend time together. As a young Officer, this means lots of weekend trips around Europe, skiing, mountaineering and drinking. Because everyone does not head home early, Friday afternoons are for ‘Battle PT’ – everyone in your unit (normally around 140 people) spends several hours running around with heavy backpacks, climbing over obstacle courses, or stretcher races. After getting dirty, tired and dehydrated, everyone heads to the Unit bar to have a drink. 

Attendance at the Unit bar, for at least one drink, was expected. Often, most people stayed for many, many more. Dehydration and beer, broke down the boundaries between people, most significantly between Officers and Soldiers. Many Unit bars even had a ‘no rank rule’, where the offices would remove any insignia of rank. After a few pints, Officers would need to put on their ‘beer body armour’. Slightly (often very) drunk soldiers, would come up to you, and in no uncertain terms, tell you what they thought of your and where you f%^ked up, often finishing with poking you in the chest saying ‘one more thing’ (hence the beer body armour). For a young officer, this is brutal. But it keeps you humble and it keeps you honest. 

What I took away from this, is that you need to be very clear, unambiguous and honest with people if you want them to change. While this, on the surface, can seem unkind, I genuinely feel it is the opposite. Giving feedback, to someones face, means you care about the organisation, care about the individual and have the moral courage to. However, I have learnt that the military is a very special place, doing the same thing in a different context, can go very, very wrong. However, I keep the principle but adapt the execution to the situation I face.

I hope that in sharing my thoughts, it helps other, especially veterans, make the transition into Product. Please, reach out if you are a veteran who also has made the transition, or wants to. I would love to hear your story, compare notes, or help if I can.