Mike Hamilton Shares His Leadership Journey from the Battlefield to the Boardroom

Mike Hamilton Shares His Leadership Journey from the Battlefield to the Boardroom

From Captain of Armored Cavalry to Senior Vice President of Sales, Distribution, and Marketing at RBC Insurance, Mike Hamilton is a certified leader. To him, leadership has been the most relevant and transferable skill from uniform to suit. He shared four of what he considers to be attributes of leadership at a recent Ascend Canada virtual event.

1.       “Do not confuse the anticipation of adversity with adversity itself.”

All too often, we let the fear of failure or perceived barriers get in the way of our success. To combat this phenomenon, Mike recalls an enlightening moment from his military past. At the end of a demanding three-day land-exploration course, he and his fellow trainees were presented with a choice: set foot on a 25-mile march or call it quits and be escorted back to base. Exhausted, nearly half of his teammates opted out. It was only after they had left that it was revealed that the choice was only a test and that their graduation was 3 days away. Mike applies the moral of this eye-opening experience to the corporate setting; leaders should not let the anticipation of adversity dictate their decision-making. Rather than worrying about the ‘what-ifs’, they should focus on finding innovative solutions to current challenges.

2.       “Set the rules but be ready to break them.”

Authority and respect are mutually exclusive; while it may be easier to discipline and dictate, true leadership prioritizes guidance and diplomacy. As a leader, Mike endorses flexibility over rigidity as he believes that a tolerant leader can foster thoughtful participation and initiate success.

3.       “Be willing to take the big risk.”

When the stakes are high, dissent against an obstructive command can save the lives of many. Mike believes that boardrooms, much like battlefields, should be occupied by confident contributors and receptive leaders. Soldiers and team members alike should be able to vocalize their concerns, and leaders should be able to accept constructive feedback, both of which demand fortitude and humility.

4.       “Execution trumps strategy.”

Between his three combat tours and his experience in business, Mike has come to realize that the best strategies are still prone to uncontrollable forces. It is important for leaders to recognize and adapt to this inevitable discrepancy, and carry on with confidence and collectedness.

The similarities between battlefields and boardrooms are not so obvious at first. However, the qualities that make a great leader remain consistent across the two disciplines; one who is receptive to critique and adaptable to deterrents with a pragmatic vision can effectively shepherd a team towards success. Take it from Mike, who has done so both on the battlefield and in the boardroom.

Emily Soojung Hwang is a University of Toronto alumni and an Ascend Canada volunteer and with a passion for social justice and investigative journalism.