What Family Businesses Can Learn From Military Culture

For longevity and having an extraordinarily strong culture, few organizations can match our military.  The military culture of our armed services began before the founding of our country, and it survives to this day.

The military culture doesn’t just survive, it does so with such force and power that because of it, people are willing to risk life and limb. Soldiers endure separation from their loved ones, and continuously miss important family events and holidays.


Can family businesses learn anything from a culture this powerful?

Frank Perdue knew the answer is yes.  He was an avid student of military history in part because he understood the importance of culture.

He realized that the military provides its members with purpose. As he once wrote in our family newsletter: “Purpose provides meaning, motivation, direction, identity, and responsiveness.”

Frank also believed from his studies of military leaders that people live up to or down to your expectation. Your goal as a leader is to give people a better vision of themselves. He often quoted Napoleon’s dictum, “Inside every corporal’s knapsack lies a Marshall’s baton.”  In other words, everyone could be a marshal. Everyone could possess greatness. Everyone was important.


What family businesses can do to build a strong and lasting culture.

Kim Kagan is a Professor at West Point and Director of the Institute for the Study of War. She never met Frank but if they had talked, she would have agreed with him.  Like Frank, she recognizes the crucial importance of culture.   Here are three of her thoughts on what family businesses can do to build a strong and lasting culture:

  1. Instill a sense of mission. Whether in leadership or in the ranks, a strong sense of mission enables individuals to put duty and mission over self. In the military, the mission is keeping the rest of us safe. What’s the mission of your family and your family business?
  2. Help provide meaning.  Fulfilled people have meaning in their lives, including knowing that they’re contributing to the greater good. As Kagan says, “One of things that’s missing in many people’s lives a sense of meaning.” What can your family business do to provide meaning?
  3. Let them know their responsibility to do their best. “Not doing their best means they’re undercutting themselves,” says Kagan, “ By not reaching their full potential, they’re missing out on an experience that can be incredibly rewarding.” What can your family business do to encourage members to be the best they can be?




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