Major Charles Jansen on Leadership in the Frontlines

Major Charles Jansen on Leadership in the Frontlines


Over the past two years, as the AIB community has continued to grow in Canada, we have been hosting student and alumni events in some of the country’s biggest cities, including Toronto and Calgary. Last year, attendees at our Toronto Alumni Event were treated to a thought-provoking presentation by Major Charles Jansen, who spoke about the parallels between leading in business and warfare, drawing on his experience in each.

About Major Jansen

Major Jansen has spent 39 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, during which he’s led or planned countless military operations and projects. To name just a few: he worked on the development and implementation of military support plans for the G8/G20 Summit, coordinated the logistics and security for two royal visits, the rescue of stranded motorists during the major snowstorm in southern Ontario, the evacuation of 4,000 First Nation individuals from the forest fires in northern Ontario, and numerous drug and terrorist interdictions. He was Chief of Logistics in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and after 15 months of combat logistics, he was awarded a commendation for his outstanding ability to manage theatre logistics, develop solutions and support the Canadian Task Force.

Major Jansen is currently the Deputy Director of Human Resource Management, Fourth Canadian Division Headquarters, Canadian Armed Forces, and has recently partnered with AIB as an Industry Guest Lecturer.

Leading in business and warfare

The key difference between leading in business and warfare, as discussed by Major Jansen, is the stakes at hand. While the processes of leadership can be similar in each sphere, the goals are very different. Major Jansen explained, “In the business world, the leadership focus is on achieving profit, stability and relevance.” But on the front lines, human lives are at risk.

The techniques that good leaders use, though, are more similar than most would think. In the business world, leaders must motivate their staff to work towards achieving organisational goals. Listening to customer or client feedback is also imperative so that you can be confident you’re providing them with the products and services they want. Customer desires constantly evolve, and so too must the businesses that serve them.

On the front lines, that focus on meeting customer need is unchanged: “We’re a service provider, and our service is protection,” explained Major Jansen. Meeting that service need comes back to influence: how can a leader get someone to do something that they need them to do, whether in an office or out in the field.

As for missions, both business leaders and military leaders seek mission success. Whether it’s a product that needs manufacturing, or a village evacuation, there are deadlines to meet and criteria to abide by. That challenge isn’t materially different, but the stakes are.

Major Jansen broke down twelve principles of leadership, some of which are universally applicable, and others of which only apply in the military world. Universal principles include continuous self-improvement, teamwork, communication, and developing employees to be their very best.

But, others which apply to both worlds carry different consequences for failure. The most obvious of these is the ability to make timely decisions. Even in the business world, a manager who prevaricates over every decision can be a liability, but on the frontline quick thinking is a necessity.

Another is the importance of leading by example and sharing the hardships of your team. That’s a far more visceral challenge in the midst of a combat mission, where gruelling training and rationed food replace office norms. “We experience the hardships together,” explained Major Jansen, “That builds a sense of loyalty with your people because they realise you care about them and you’re experiencing the same conditions that they are.” No matter what the environmental hardships are, however, it’s a principle that is bound to serve any leader well.

Simulated environments, too, are a military technique with business application. Out in the field, the simulations might include people playing the role of the enemy; in business, it may be a difficult customer. Having practice in demanding situations helps a team become more cohesive and lessens the chance that you’ll panic and make the wrong call at a critical moment.

Major Jansen concluded with a reminder that no matter where you operate, in the boardroom or the front lines, ethics, professionalism and respect for others are integral to the core success of the mission. And as a leader, using optimism to pull your team through the hard times is always welcome.

Whether it’s high or low stake leadership, Major Jansen’s experience on the frontline offers valuable insights for all of us.

View all the photos from the Toronto Alumni Event here.

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