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Discharging Your Loyal Soldiers Part I

By Chuck Violand

June 5, 2017

Animas Valley Institute is a non-profit organization, founded by Dr. Bill Plotkin, that is dedicated to helping people discover a “soul centric” worldview. As part of his work, Dr. Plotkin tells the story of how, after World War II, some Japanese communities helped returning soldiers successfully reenter civilian society by reframing the identities many of them had adopted as soldiers.

The only identity many of them knew was that of being loyal soldiers to their country, having shaped this identity through the formative years of their lives. Many of them simply weren’t mentally or emotionally fit or prepared to reenter humane society.

Some of their communities created rituals where the soldiers were thanked and praised in public for their service to the country. A community elder would stand, and with great fanfare, announce, “The war is now over! The community needs you to let go of what has served you and served us so well up to now. The community needs you to return as a man, a citizen, and something beyond a soldier.” Whoa!!!

How many of us in business could benefit from a little discharging of the loyal soldiers we’ve accumulated in our business lives, or that we brought with us to our companies? Imagine the impact if we could let go of lessons that may have served us well at one time but no longer have a purpose.

As business owners, we’re not trying to reenter civil society (at least most of us aren’t); we’re trying to navigate the next phase of our businesses. While discharging loyal soldiers in business can literally mean letting people go who aren’t performing, more often it applies to our own thinking and beliefs rather than to people.

Our businesses are built on the lessons we learned during the formative years of our careers. Lessons learned from both our successes and our failures. Lessons learned in the classroom and in the market. A big part of our professional growth also involves discharging some lessons that no longer apply and may even be destructive. This was the case with the failing playing card company that we know today as Nintendo. And Confinity, Inc., who switched their focus from an old technology, Palm Pilot payments and cryptography, to a new one, PayPal.

Even the good lessons we’ve learned over the years change as markets change and as the demands of our businesses change. Just ask those who used to make buggy whips or mimeograph machines, or who invested in film development kiosks or movie rental stores.

Our pricing models, employee compensation, organizational models, and management styles sometimes must change to adequately address the evolving needs of our companies. Where our early employees may have been motivated primarily by getting a paycheck every week, workers now are more likely to be motivated by contributing their talents to the company or building their careers.

If we’re not constantly challenging the beliefs and habits we adopted in the early years of our businesses, we may inadvertently slow or stall their growth. Just like with Japan’s returning soldiers, these old habits may not be fit for our larger businesses.